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US needles China again as Kamala Harris visits Philippine island near waters claimed by China

US Vice President Kamala Harris is the highest ranking US official to ever visit the western island of Palawan in the South China Sea. PA

New Delhi: US Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to an island in the Philippines near territorial waters claimed by China on Tuesday to show support for the longtime US ally and counter Beijing’s growing influence in the country. the region.

Harris is the highest-ranking U.S. official to ever visit the western island of Palawan, the closest Philippine landmass to the Spratly Archipelago in the hotly contested South China Sea.

China has for some time claimed sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea region and also ignored an international court ruling that its claims had no legal basis.

The archipelago of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea.

During her visit to the island, the Vice President of the United States will meet with fishermen and members of the Philippine Coast Guard. It will also “underline the importance of international law, unimpeded legal trade and freedom of navigation,” a US administrative official told news agencies ahead of his visit.

Her trip to Palawan comes a day after she held talks with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in Manila. Harris reaffirmed the United States’ “unwavering” commitment to defending the Philippines if its ships or planes were attacked in the South China Sea.

The United States has a long-standing security alliance with the Philippines that includes a Mutual Defense Treaty and a 2014 agreement, known by the acronym EDCA, which allows the United States military to stockpile equipment and supplies from defense at five Philippine bases. The pact also allows US troops to rotate through these military bases.

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As regional tensions rise, fueled by China’s recent moves around Taiwan, the United States is seeking to restore bilateral relations with Manila, whose cooperation could be critical in the event of a conflict. Relations between the two countries have fractured under the mercurial Duterte, who favored China over his country’s former colonial rulers.

Marcos has sought to strike a balance between his neighboring superpowers, insisting he will not let China trample on Manila’s maritime rights.

Harris’ visit conveyed a “stronger sense of commitment” to the Philippines’ position on maritime claims, and also underscored the need for continued implementation of the EDCA, said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

Of the nations claiming the South China Sea, Beijing has been most insistent in recent years on its position. Chinese coastguards and military vessels patrol the waters, invade reefs, harass and attack fishing and other boats, and interfere with oil and gas exploration as well as ongoing scientific research in the region. .

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