For the past several years, the communist nation of China has sought to expand and exert its influence over other nations in the region, specifically those that share the international and territorial waters of the South China Sea.
By way of taking over existing uninhabited islands — or manufacturing man-made islands altogether — and then militarizing them with landing ships and missile launchers, China has established a presence and laid sole claim to waters that are at best regarded as open and international, and at worst already claimed by other nations in the area, such as the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
But per a report from The Washington Free Beacon, those efforts by China to impose its will and control over the regional waters that serve as a vital route for roughly $5 trillion in international trade annually have just run into the determined opposition of President Donald Trump’s administration, as was relayed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a recent visit to the Philippines.
In a joint press conference with Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Pompeo made it abundantly clear that the United States would honor its long-held mutual defense agreement with the Pacific Ocean island nation against any sort of threat posed by China to their sovereignty.
“As an island nation, the Philippines depends on free and unobstructed access to the seas,” Pompeo said, according to a State Department transcript. “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.
“As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty.”
Pompeo was asked what sort of action the U.S. might take in the event it proved necessary in the South China Sea.
“Our commitments under the treaty are clear,” he said. “Our obligations are real, and the South China Sea is certainly part of an important body of water for freedom of navigation.
“I think the whole world understands that the Trump administration has made a true commitment to making sure that these seas remain open — remain open for the security of the countries in the region and for the world, open for commercial transit as well.”
“We remain committed to supporting not only the Philippines in that effort — and the Philippines will need to do its part as well — but all the 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.”
Locsin was asked for his view of the mutual defense treaty and the U.S. commitment to defend the international waters that are currently in dispute.
“The repeated assurances by the United States that in the event — where an act of aggression is committed against the Philippines — I don’t believe that going down into the details is the way the sincerity of the American commitment will be shown,” he said. “They will respond, depending on the circumstances, but we are very assured.
“We are very confident that the United States has, in the words of Secretary Pompeo and the words of President Trump to our president, we have your back.”
The Free Beacon noted that, prior to these remarks by Pompeo, it was largely unclear as to what the U.S. would do in response to potential Chinese violations of the territorial integrity of allies in the area, a view that largely stemmed from the hands-off approach of the prior administration under former President Barack Obama, who stood idly by as China made aggressive and expansive moves in the disputed region.
Initially, China had vowed to not militarize the uninhabited and man-made islands in the South China Sea, but it proceeded to do so anyway over the years. While Obama did next to nothing to counter those moves, the Trump administration has begun to push back by sending freedom of navigation operations through the South China Sea, not to mention regularly surveilling the area with reconnaissance aircraft.
To be sure, few want to see any sort of military conflict in the South China Sea, particularly one between nuclear-armed rivals like the U.S. and China, though any conflict would likely remain conventional in nature.
That said, China’s actions pose a direct threat to important U.S. allies in the region, such as the Philippines, not to mention the plethora of international trade that utilizes the vital shipping routes through the area.
Once again, the world has been reminded that things are vastly different now that Trump is president, and China’s leaders would be wise to take note and realize that they aren’t working with a sympathetic pushover like Obama anymore.
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