VP Harris to visit front-line Philippine island in sea feud

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris will underline America’s Commitment to Treaty Ally Defense The visit to the Philippines began on Sunday and includes a flight to an island province facing the disputed South China Sea, where Washington has accused China of bullying smaller claimant nations.

After attending Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit In Thailand, Harris flew to a red carpet reception in Manila on Sunday night. On Monday, she meets President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for talks aimed at bolstering Washington’s oldest treaty alliance in Asia and strengthening economic ties, a senior US administration official, who was not identified as a matter of practice, said in an online briefing ahead of the visit.

Harris said her visit to Thailand was “quite successful” as she reiterated America’s commitment to the region at a roundtable discussion on climate change Sunday afternoon.

A panel of climate activists, members of civil society and business leaders focused on clean energy and climate change threats to the Mekong River, which more than 60 million people in Southeast Asia use for food, water and transport. Harris announced US plans to provide up to $20 million in funding for clean energy in the region through the Japan-US Mekong Power Partnership.

Before her flight, she stopped at a local market and perused the maze of shops, chatting with shopkeepers and buying Thai green curry paste.

On Tuesday, she will travel to Palawan province on the South China Sea to meet fishermen, villagers, officials and coast guards. Once there, she will be the highest-ranking US leader to visit the border island at the forefront of long-running territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippine Coast Guard will welcome Harris aboard one of its largest patrol vessels, the BRP Teresa Magbanua, in Palawan, where she will deliver a speech, according to Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo.

Harris will highlight the importance of international law, unfettered commerce and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the US official said.

China can view the tour as it wishes, the official added in response to a question, but the message from Washington is that the US, as a member of the Indo-Pacific, is committed to the security of its allies in the region.

Jose Manuel Romualdez, the Philippines’ ambassador to Washington, said Harris’ visit to Palawan showed US support for the ally and concern over China’s actions in the disputed sea.

“It’s as clear as you can get that the message they’re trying to send to the Chinese is ‘We support our allies like the Philippines in these disputed islands,'” Romualdez told The Associated Press. “This visit is an important step in showing how seriously America now takes this situation.”

Washington and Beijing are on a collision course in long-disputed waters. The US has laid no claim to the strategic waterway, where an estimated $5 trillion in global trade takes place annually, saying freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea is in the US national interest.

China The US Navy and Air Force oppose the patrol In the busy waterway, which Beijing claims in its entirety. It has warned Washington not to intervene in what it calls a purely Asian regional conflict – which has become a fragile front in the US-China rivalry in the region and has long been feared as a potential flashpoint.

In July, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called on China to abide by a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea, warning that Washington was obligated to protect treaty ally the Philippines if its troops, ships or aircraft came down. Attack in disputed waters.

China has rejected a 2016 ruling by an arbitral tribunal set up in The Hague under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea after the Philippine government complained in 2013 about China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed waters. Beijing did not participate in the arbitration, dismissing its decision as a sham and continuing to defy it.

Harris’s visit is his latest mark Growing ties between Washington and Manila Led by Marcos Jr., who took office in June after a landslide election victory.

US relations with the Philippines fell on hard times under Marcos’ predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who threatened to sever ties with Washington and expel visiting US troops, and once sought to scrap a major defense deal with the US while cultivating friendly relations with China and Russia. .

When the President Joe Biden and Marcos Jr Speaking for the first time at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he emphasized how deeply the United States values ​​its relationship with the Philippines, despite some difficulties.

“We’ve had some tough times, but the fact is it’s a serious, serious relationship from our perspective. I hope you feel the same way,” Biden said then. “We are your partners,” Marcos Jr. told him. We are your colleagues. We are your friends.”

The relationship comes at an important time when the US needs to build a deterrent presence amid growing security threats in the region, Romualdez said.

Philippine military chief Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacaro said last week that the U.S. wants to build five more military facilities in the northern Philippines under a 2014 defense cooperation agreement, which would allow the U.S. military to build warehouses and temporary living quarters in the Philippines. military camps.

The Philippine constitution bans foreign military bases but at least two defense treaties allow temporary visits by US forces with their aircraft and naval vessels for joint military exercises, combat training and responding to natural disasters.

The northern Philippines is strategically located across the Taiwan Strait and can serve as an important outpost. If stress increases between China and the autonomous island.

Harris Briefly discussed with Chinese leader Xi Jinping On his way to a closed-door meeting at APEC on Saturday. Asked on Sunday whether he had discussed Taiwan or North Korea, he reiterated that he had talked about keeping “open lines of communication”.

While aiming to deepen ties, the Biden administration faced concerns from human rights groups over Marcos Jr. The Philippine leader has staunchly defended the legacy of his father, a dictator who was ousted amid human rights abuses in a 1986 pro-democracy uprising. and looting.

Harris also plans to meet Vice President Sara Duterte, the daughter of Marcos’ predecessor Oversaw a deadly anti-drug crackdown It resulted in the deaths of thousands of mostly poor suspects and led to an International Criminal Court investigation as a possible crime against humanity. The vice president has defended his father’s presidency.

Given the Biden administration’s high-profile advocacy for democracy and human rights, his officials have said human rights are at the top of the agenda in each of their engagements with Marcos Jr. and his officials.

After Monday’s meeting with Marcos Jr., Harris plans to meet with civil society activists to demonstrate America’s commitment and continued support for human rights and democratic resilience, the US official said.


Associated Press writer Kritika Pathi in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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