Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE) -Just days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the US to be committed militarily to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty against China, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has called for his side to conduct a review of the matter.
“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 United States,” Pompeo told a news conference in Manila.
Reacting from Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that China and the countries around the South China Sea were working hard to protect peace and stability.
“So, if countries outside the region, like the United States, really want to consider the peace, tranquility and well-being of people in the region, then they shouldn’t make trouble out of nothing and incite trouble,” Lu told reporters.
The question is whether 1951 pact benefits the Philippines at all. Though the US is constantly reiterating its military support for the Philippines, Lorenzana noted that “the Philippines is not in a conflict with anyone and will not be at war with anyone in the future.”
Lorenzana noted that the US is a lot more likely to get into a shooting war with China than the Philippines is. He is concerned that the 1951 treaty would automatically suck the Philippines into a war they don’t want. It would be the Philippines supporting the US not the other way around.
The Pentagon has openly been conducting “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea specifically aimed at China. Though this is presented as being done for the benefit of the Philippines and their maritime rights, the Philippine government didn’t ask them to, and doesn’t want war. It is clear they feel the need to review the treaty before such a war starts before it is too late. Pompeo also said allies should be wary of risks of using Chinese technology.
Lorenzana’s push for greater certainty comes amid a rapid buildup by Beijing of military assets, coastguard and fishing militia in the South China Sea, most notably on and around artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago.
According to Reuters, although there is no longer a permanent U.S. military presence in the Philippines, joint exercises, intelligence exchanges and transfers of hardware take place regularly under various agreements.Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, however, is not a fan and believes that the alliance makes his country a potential target of China, with which he wants stronger business ties.
Duterte has repeatedly questioned the U.S. commitment, noting that it did nothing to stop China from turning reefs into islands equipped with radar, missiles batteries and hangers for fighter jets, and within firing distance of the Philippines.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin confirmed that discussions on the defense treaty were taking place, but said that in his own view, it was better not be too specific about its parameters.“I believe in the old theory of deterrence,” he told reporters. “In vagueness lies the best deterrence.”