In the Philippines, Blinken pledges to strengthen military ties

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MANILA – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines and Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken said on Saturday that their countries were determined to strengthen their military alliance and that their governments had to deal with rising tensions in Asia, including those involving China. and Taiwan.

Mr Marcos said at the beginning of a meeting with Mr Blinken at the presidential palace that he did not believe that President Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan had increased those tensions; rather, it “demonstrated how the intensity of the conflict has been at that level for quite some time, but we kind of got used to the idea and put it aside.”

Mr Marcos’ comment came as China continued to conduct military exercises in the waters off Taiwan, two days after it fired 11 ballistic missiles into the same area, five of which were in waters that are part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

The United States, Japan and other countries have issued statements denouncing China’s actions and calling for de-escalation. Mr. Marcos’s words also supported Mr. Blinken and other US officials’ claims that Ms. Pelosi’s visit was in line with US policy toward Taiwan and not a shift in the status quo.

Mr Marcos also spoke about building on the mutual defense arrangement between the United States and the Philippines. The two countries are treaty allies, and the US military has a long-standing presence in the Philippines. US officials have discussed possible greater access to military bases in the country, conducted more exercises between the two armies and made their defense systems more interoperable – part of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at increasing cooperation with allies and partners to counterbalance China.

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Mr Marcos spoke of the need “to develop that relationship in light of all the changes we have seen”, adding that “the Mutual Defense Treaty is constantly evolving.”

Mr Blinken agreed. “The alliance is strong,” he said, “and I think it could get even stronger.”

Mr. Marcos was sworn in at the end of June after being elected 17th President of the Philippines in a landslide victory. He is the son and namesake of a former dictator who fled to Hawaii with his family in 1986 after a peaceful uprising by citizens outraged at the father’s brutal corruption. The eldest Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989.

The question of how to confront China with its assertive behavior in the region while treating it as an important economic partner was one that emerged during Mr Blinken’s meetings with Philippine officials on Saturday, as well as in his discussions with other Asian dignitaries at a regional summit in Cambodia this week.

After Mr. Blinken and Enrique A. Manalo, the Philippines’ Secretary of State, met via video, Mr. Manalo said in response to a question at a press conference that the two countries are discussing the possibility of joint naval patrols in the Pacific. could investigate.

Mr Manalo spoke to Mr Blinken via video and took part in the press conference virtually as he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mr. Blinken told reporters that in his discussions, he had affirmed the United States’ “cast-iron” commitment to the defense of the Philippines and said that any armed attack on the Philippine military would lead to commitments in their mutual defense treaty.

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He also denounced illegal fishing and environmental destruction in Asian waters by ‘external actors’. Taken together, those comments were a clear reference to China’s actions. For years, countries in the region have complained about illegal fishing by Chinese boats, which are believed to sail the seas with the approval of the Chinese navy.

The Chinese government has made extensive claims to territorial control over the waters and land features in the South China Sea, despite competing claims by Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, and Washington’s insistence that all countries retain freedom of navigation .

Ships from China and the Philippines faced each other across the Scarborough Shoal, and an international court in The Hague ruled in 2016 that the shoal was sovereign territory of the Philippines and that China could not claim the entire South China Sea as its own. China has continued to send ships into the area and maintain control of the area.

Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, sought to adopt a more conciliatory policy towards China, including withdrawing strong territorial claims over the South China Sea. But Marcos has promised to uphold the international court’s ruling — a decision that will almost certainly bring his government into conflict with China.

Mr. Duterte, who had been in office for six years, at one point decided to end a major military agreement between the United States and the Philippines. That and other actions by Mr. Duterte, widely criticized for human rights violations and authoritarian practices, strained Manila-Washington relations.

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But last year, Mr. Duterte reaffirmed the visiting troops agreement between the countries, which the Philippine military strongly supports. The agreement sets conditions for the rotation of US troops through the Philippines for drills and exercises.

In the press conference with Mr Manalo, Mr Blinken also criticized China for Friday’s decision to sever eight areas of cooperation and dialogue with the United States following Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, including military talks and climate change negotiations.

“Suspending climate cooperation is not a punishment for the United States; it punishes the world, especially in the developing world,” he said. “We must not hold things of global importance hostage because of differences between our two countries.”

Mr Blinken said he warned Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, at a meeting of foreign ministers at the Cambodia summit on Friday morning about continuing escalating actions following Ms Pelosi’s visit. Hours later, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the suspension of the areas of cooperation.

“I think maintaining the dialogue is even more important in a period of heightened tensions, like now,” said Mr Blinken at the press conference in Manila.

After the press conference, Mr Blinken visited a Covid-19 vaccination clinic at the Manila Zoo and watched a boy and girl get vaccinated. On his knee, he told the boy that he himself had been shot four times. He later spoke of the need for countries to work together to contain the coronavirus pandemic, feeding fruit to an elephant from Sri Lanka before leaving the zoo.

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