US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States is committed to ensuring the South China Sea remains open to all kinds of navigation and that “China does not pose a threat” of closing the busy sea lanes.
Pompeo assured the Philippines during his visit to Manila on Friday that America will come to its defense if its forces, aircraft or ships come under armed attack in the South China Sea. His comments were an attempt to address local concerns over the vagueness of the allies’ 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.
“I think the whole world understands that the Trump administration has made a true commitment to making sure that these seas remain open for the security of the countries in the region and the world, open to commercial transit,” Pompeo told a news conference in Manila.
Washington will back the Philippines and other countries in the region “so that these incredibly vital economic sea lanes are open and China does not pose a threat to closing them down,” Pompeo said.
“China’s island building and military activities in the South China Sea threaten your sovereignty, security and, therefore, economic livelihood, as well as that of the US,” he added.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says the Philippines feels confident, citing US assurances that, “We have your back.”
Pompeo says he raised the importance of human rights, a touchy subject amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal anti-drug crackdown in two decades.
Chinese officials have refuted such US assertions in the past, saying Beijing will never threaten freedom of navigation in the busy waterway.
The long-seething territorial disputes are a key irritant between Washington and Beijing, which has turned several disputed barren reefs into islands with runways and other military facilities. Beijing has warned Washington against meddling, but the latter has declared that the peaceful resolution of the disputes and freedom of navigation and overflight in the contested areas were in the US national interest.