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Pentagon chief reaffirms support after latest China aggression in WPS

MANILA, Philippines — United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III has once again reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to Manila following the latest sea confrontation between Philippine and Chinese vessels. 

Austin emphasized US support for the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in a phone call with Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro on Wednesday. 

“The two officials discussed the importance of preserving the rights of all nations to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows,” according to the readout provided by Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, press secretary of the Pentagon. 

“They agreed to bolster bilateral and multilateral cooperation with like-minded partners in the South China Sea and committed to accelerate a number of bilateral initiatives to enhance information-sharing, interoperability, and capability enhancements for the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” it added. 

Austin also reiterated that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty extends to both nations’ armed forces, public vessels, and aircraft—including those of its Coast Guard—anywhere in the Pacific, including the South China Sea.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier said the defense will only be invoked if the country faces an “existential threat.”

Over the weekend, the China Coast Guard blocked and used water cannons against a Filipino supply boat, damaging the vessel and injuring three soldiers.

Beijing claims nearly the entire South China Sea, dismissing claims from other countries, including the Philippines, and an international court ruling that found its assertions to have no legal basis. — Gaea Katreena Cabico with report from Agence France-Presse