US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Philippine counterpart Gilberto Teodoro Jnr met on the sidelines of Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus in Jakarta, according to a joint readout released on Wednesday.
The secretaries “denounced the recent harassment” by Chinese vessels towards Philippine coastguard and resupply vessels “conducting lawful resupply operations” around Second Thomas Shoal, which is part of Beijing’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea.
The top defence officials also decried China’s “dangerous” operational manoeuvres against US aircraft and ships in the South China Sea. China has maintained that its actions in contested waters were lawful.
Both officials reaffirmed that the mutual defence treaty, which obliges Washington to come to Manila’s defence in case of an armed attack. The treaty “extends to both countries’ armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft – including those of its coastguard – anywhere in the Pacific, to include the South China Sea,” according to the statement.
“Secretary Austin reiterated President Biden’s message that the US defence commitment to the Philippines is ironclad, and emphasised that the United States stands shoulder to shoulder with the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone,” the readout said.
The US military early this year won access to four more Philippine sites, on top of the initially agreed five bases under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Following the recent completion of a US$24 million runway upgrade at one of the Philippine military bases, the defence chiefs “pledged to further accelerate EDCA implementation,” the readout said.