During a congressional hearing, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia Lindsey Ford commended the Philippines’ action and reaffirmed Washington’s security commitments to its Asian ally.
“The department has been incredibly clear that when it comes to our treaty commitments to the Philippines, we believe an armed attack against Philippine Armed Forces, public vessels, aircraft, apply to the South China Sea. That includes the Philippine coastguard,” Ford told a House of Representatives subcommittee on foreign affairs.
“We stand by those commitments absolutely,” she said.
China’s foreign ministry has defended the actions of its coastguard as “necessary measures” after a Philippine bureau of fisheries vessel “intruded” into its waters last Friday.
The incident highlights the strained relations between China and the Philippines at a time when Manila is rapidly strengthening military ties with Washington.
Control of the strategic Scarborough Shoal, seized in 2012 by China, is a sensitive issue as it formed part of a legal case filed by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The court ruled in 2016 that Beijing’s claim to 90 per cent of the South China Sea had no basis under international law.
China has refused to recognise the landmark ruling.