U.S. defense chief reaffirms support for Philippines, chides ‘dangerous’ Chinese conduct

March 28, 2024 - 4:08 PM
United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference after a bilateral meeting with Philippines' Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at Camp Aguinaldo military camp in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 30, 2021. (Rolex Dela Pena/Pool via Reuters/File Photo)

 U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines and criticized as “dangerous” China’s use of water cannon and disruption of a Philippine resupply mission last week.

In a phone call on Wednesday with his Philippine counterpart Gilberto Teodoro, Austin “reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. commitment to the Philippines” following Chinese obstruction at the Second Thomas Shoal “of a lawful Philippine resupply mission,” said a statement from the Pentagon.

Austin emphasized support for the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction, it said.

The Philippines routinely sends boats to the Second Thomas Shoal to deliver supplies to a small group of its soldiers posted to guard a warship that was intentionally grounded on a reef 25 years ago.

The Philippines has been furious over what it calls repeated aggression by China’s coastguard around disputed features located inside Manila’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

China warned the Philippines on Monday to behave cautiously and seek dialogue, saying their relations were at a “crossroads” as confrontations between their coastguards over maritime claims worsened tensions.

China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has accused the Philippines of encroaching on its territory and says it took necessary measures against the vessels. It has told the United States not to interfere.

— Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty