Author Topic: How US ambiguity in South China Sea puts the PH-US alliance at crossroads  (Read 2026 times)


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How Washington’s ambiguity in South China Sea puts the Philippine-US alliance at a crossroads

Richard Heydarian writes that the Philippines could ‘downgrade’ its long-standing association with the US if Washington remains unclear on its commitments in disputed waters

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2019, 3:23am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2019, 10:31pm

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The Philippine defence chief openly lamented Washington’s “ambivalent” position on the exact coordinates of its commitments to the Philippines, especially in light of the South China Sea disputes. He explicitly questioned whether the Mutual Defence Treaty is “still relevant to our security” instead of just serving “the interest of other nations”, namely the US.

The first problem with the alliance is the very text of the treaty. According to Article V of the MDT, “an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”

Yet, Washington has equivocated on what exactly it considers to be part of “metropolitan” Philippines and the “island territories under its jurisdiction”.

To the Philippines’ horror, its ally largely stood by when China occupied Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef in 1994 as well as during the months-long Philippine-China naval stand-off over the Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

The US has repeatedly refused to clarify whether its treaty commitments apply in the South China Sea, where the Philippines is at loggerheads with several other claimant states.

Moreover, there are doubts whether the treaty provides expedient military help in the event of conflict between the Philippines and any hostile third party. According to Article IV of the treaty, each party “would act to meet the common dangers [in their area of jurisdiction] in accordance with its constitutional processes”.

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By calling for a formal review, the Philippine defence establishment likely hopes to compel the US to revisit both the text and its interpretation of the MDT in ways that are more mutually satisfactory. In exchange, Manila may grant US troops expanded access to its military bases, particularly the Bautista and Basa airbases bordering the South China Sea.

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