The US defense official praised the Philippines for taking action to protect their sovereignty by removing a Chinese barrier in the South China Sea near the Scarborough Shoal.
The Philippines was angered by China’s installation of a long, spherical barrier near a rocky area 200 km (124 miles) away. This has caused disputes over control and access to fishing for many years.
The Philippine coast guard announced on Monday that they carried out a “special operation” to dismantle the barrier, citing it as a breach of international law and a potential danger to maritime navigation.
At a meeting in Congress, Lindsey Ford, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, praised the Philippines’ actions and reiterated the United States’ commitment to their Asian partner’s security.
Ms. Ford stated to a House of Representatives subcommittee on foreign affairs that the department is firm in its stance that our treaty obligations to the Philippines include an armed attack on their Armed Forces, public vessels, and aircraft in the South China Sea. This also applies to the Philippine Coast Guard.
She affirmed that we fully support those promises.
On Wednesday evening, the Chinese coastguard challenged the Philippine account of what happened, stating that they had taken back the barrier on Saturday. They had originally placed it there the day before in response to a Philippine ship entering the area without permission.
The Chinese foreign ministry has justified the actions of its coast guard as “essential steps” following a Philippine bureau of fisheries ship’s incursion into Chinese waters on Friday.
The event emphasizes the tense relationship between China and the Philippines, especially as Manila is currently strengthening its military connections with Washington.
Ms. Ford expressed enthusiasm about the enactment of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, a recent agreement between Manila and Washington that grants the US entry to four additional military bases in the Philippines.
China took control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012, sparking a contentious matter due to its involvement in a legal dispute between the Philippines and the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. In 2016, the court determined that China’s assertion to 90% of the South China Sea was invalid according to international law.
China has rejected the significant decision.