The United States has warned China against what the Philippines and Taiwan see as increasingly aggressive moves, reminding Beijing of Washington’s obligations to its partners, as the two rival powers step up their naval activities in the South China Sea.
“An armed attack against the Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday.
“We share the concerns of our Philippine allies regarding the continued reported massing of PRC maritime militia near the Whitsun Reef,” Price said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
More than 200 Chinese boats were first spotted on March 7 at Whitsun Reef, about 320 kilometres (200 miles) west of Palawan Island and within the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Since the first reported sighting, the vessels have scattered across a wider area of the South China Sea within Manila’s EEZ as defined by the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague.
For weeks, Manila has called on Beijing to withdraw the “maritime militia” vessels, saying their incursion into the Philippines’s EEZ is illegal as defined by the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague.
China – which claims almost the entirety of the resource-rich sea – has refused, insisting they are fishing boats sheltering from bad weather and are allowed to be there.
In response, Manila warned that the presence of the vessels could ignite “unwanted hostilities” between the two nations.
Taiwan Relations Act
Tensions have also risen with Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of China, with the self-governing democracy on Wednesday reporting that 15 more of the mainland’s planes crossed into the island’s air defence zone.
Taipei warned that it would defend itself “to the very last day” if necessary.
On Monday, the Chinese carrier, Liaoning, also led a naval exercise near Taiwan, and Beijing said that such drills will become regular occurrences.