United States Says It Will Defend Philippines If China Attacks

Following a Chinese coast guard vessel’s alleged use of a military-grade laser against a Philippine ship, the United States government issued a stern warning to China. 

The State Department boldly proclaimed that it will defend the Philippines from any potential military action by China. 

El American provided some context to this incident. On February 6,  2023, China and the Philippines nearly locked horns when a Chinese coast guard ship pointed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship as it was trying to send supplies to Philippine troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal.

The PCG declared that this was a “clear violation of the Philippines’ sovereign rights.” The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs subsequently issued a formal protest to the Chinese Embassy. In the formal protest, Philippine authorities “condemned the shadowing, harassment, dangerous maneuvers, directing of military-grade laser, and illegal radio challenges” the Chinese vessel engaged in.

Chinese vs. Philippine tensions have been growing in the South China Sea for several decades. China has claimed maritime sovereignty over what it calls the “nine-dash line,” which the El American report noted is “a drawing that was made by the Kuomintang political party in 1946, shortly before leaving power.” The report added  “It is only a line that does not have precise coordinates, which is why it has given rise to more than one conflict with its neighbors and especially with the Philippines.”

China is essentially claiming parts of the Philippine’s maritime territory as its own sovereign territory. American-Philippine relations have grown deeper as the US has continued its pivot to Asia designed to contain the rise of China. The two countries recently reached an agreement to allow the US Army to have greater access to Philippine military facilities,.

State Department spokesman Ned Price described China’s behavior “provocative and unsafe.”

“More broadly, the PRC’s dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order,” Price added.

Price then sent a firm message to China highlighting the US’s commitment to defending the Philippines in the event of Chinese military action taken against it. “The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard in the South China Sea, would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments,” Price stated. In this statement, he alluded to a mutual defense treaty that was signed back in 1951.

The State Department spokesman referred to the Mutual Defense Treaty the US and Philippines signed in 1951, which states that both countries must have each other’s back in the event a third party launches a military attack against them. So if China attacks the Philippines, the US is obligated to come to its defense and vice versa.

This is just one of the many entangling alliances the US is involved in that the founding generation adamantly warned about. While a sovereign Philippines is preferable, the laws of geopolitics dictate that as countries such as China grow stronger, they will invariably exert more influence within their sphere of influence. 

The US simply cannot police every corner of the world, especially when it’s dealing with a nuclear power such as China. Sure, the US can and should do everything possible to shut down China’s subversive Confucius Institutes, restrict immigration from it, and decouple trade with it. However, it should do everything possible to avoid a direct military confrontation with China. Those matters are for Asian countries to handle among themselves.

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