US vows to uphold treaty and defend Philippines in South China Sea

The US has recently clarified its terms of its defense treaty obligations to the Philippines, which includes putting forth new guidelines that specifically address attacks in the South China Sea, including ones on its coast guard, per Reuters.
The issue of the guidelines was the first time of its kind since the treaty was signed in 1951. The news comes after Filipino diplomats have protested what it has referred to as “aggressive” behavior from China, including threats and actions on its coast guard.

The “bilateral defense guidelines” are all of six pages, and they come amid a recent push by Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to update the Mutual Defense Treaty. This apparently comes at a time when maritime confrontation with China has only escalated. However, the Philippines is just one country that has become irritated with China’s military prodding. Another is Taiwan, which China has insisted is under Chinese sovereignty, and has simulated military drills around the island country.

The guidelines appear to lay out bilateral treaty commitments that include coming to the defense of the other country if one is attacked in the South China Sea, or if coast guard vessels happen to be the target of some kind of attack. The treaty also included updated references to modern types of warfare, including “grey zone tactics,” according to Reuters. However, the guidelines did not specifically target China as a potential threat.

The Pentagon stated: "Recognising that threats may arise in several domains – including land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace – and take the form of asymmetric, hybrid, and irregular warfare and grey-zone tactics, the guidelines chart a way forward to build interoperability in both conventional and non-conventional domains.”

Julio Amador, head of the Foundation for the National Interest, noted that the recent bilateral agreement “will give China some pause.” But Beijing has opposed the agreement that is set to potentially interfere in the South China Sea, noting that the area should not “be a hunting ground for external forces.”

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