VP Harris visits a Philippine island on the front line in a maritime conflict

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Vice President Kamala Harris will confirm America’s commitment to defend a treaty ally The Philippines with a visit that began on Sunday and includes travel to an island province facing the disputed South China Sea, where Washington has accused China of harassing claimed small countries.

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

Harris said her trip to Thailand was “extremely successful” as she reiterated the US commitment to the region Sunday afternoon at a roundtable discussion on climate change.

The panel of climate activists, civil society members and business leaders focused on clean energy and the threat climate change poses to the Mekong River, which is used by more than 60 million people in Southeast Asia for food, water and transportation. Harris announced US plans to provide up to $20 million in clean energy financing in the region through the Japan-US Mekong Energy Partnership.

Before leaving, she stopped at a local market and perused the maze of shops, chatted with the shopkeepers and bought Thai green curry paste.

On Tuesday, she will fly to the province of Palawan, located along the South China Sea, to meet fishermen, villagers, officials and coast guards. Once there, she will be the most senior American leader to visit the border island at the forefront of the long-running territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippine Coast Guard is set to welcome Harris aboard one of its largest patrol vessels, the BRP Teresa Magbanua, in Palawan, where she is scheduled to give a speech, according to Coast Guard spokesperson, Commodore Armand Palillo.

The US official said Harris would stress the importance of international law and unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

The official added, in response to a question, that China can view the visit the way it wants, but Washington’s message is that the United States, as a member of the Indo-Pacific, is engaged and committed to the security of its allies in the region.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said Harris’ trip to Palawan shows America’s level of support for an ally and concern over China’s actions in the disputed sea.

“It’s as clear as you can understand,” Romualdez told the Associated Press, “that the message they’re trying to get across to the Chinese is that ‘we support our allies like the Philippines in these disputed islands.'” This visit is an important step to show how serious the United States is about this situation right now. .

Washington and Beijing have long been on a collision course in the disputed waters. While the United States does not claim the strategic waterway, through which an estimated $5 trillion of global trade passes each year, it has said that freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea is in America’s national interest.

China Opposition to the US Navy and Air Force patrols In the busy waterway, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety. Washington has warned against meddling in what it says is a purely Asian regional conflict – which has become a sensitive front line in the rivalry between the United States and China in the region and has long been feared as a potential flashpoint.

In July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on China to comply with a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea and warned that Washington was obligated to defend treaty ally the Philippines if its troops, ships or aircraft were attacked. Attack in disputed waters.

China rejected a 2016 decision by an arbitration court set up in The Hague under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea after the Philippine government complained in 2013 about China’s increasingly aggressive actions in disputed waters. Beijing did not participate in the arbitration and has dismissed its ruling as a disgrace and continues to challenge it.

Harris visit is the latest sign of The growing relationship between Washington and Manila Under Marcos Jr., who took office in June after a landslide electoral victory.

America’s relations with the Philippines entered a difficult period under the rule of Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who threatened to sever relations with Washington and expel visiting American forces, and once tried to cancel a major defense pact with the United States while nurturing warm relations with China and Russia. .

when the president Joe Biden met Marcus Jr. And he stressed for the first time in September in New York on the sidelines of the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly, the depth with which the United States views its relations with the Philippines, despite some headwinds.

“We’ve had some tough times, but the truth is, it’s a critical and crucial relationship, from our point of view. I hope you feel the same way,” Biden said then. “We’re your partners. We are your allies. We are your friends.”

Romualdez said the rapprochement came at a crucial time when the United States needed to build a deterrent presence amid growing security threats in the region.

Philippine Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Baccaro said last week that the US wants to build military facilities in five more regions in the northern Philippines under the 2014 Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows US forces to build warehouses and temporary accommodation inside the Philippines. Military camps.

The Philippine constitution prohibits foreign military bases, but at least two defense agreements allow temporary visits by US forces with their aircraft and navy ships to conduct joint military exercises, combat training, and prepare for response to natural disasters.

The northern Philippines is strategically located across a strait from Taiwan and could serve as a crucial outpost In the event of an escalation of tensions between China and the island of self-rule.

Harris He spoke briefly with Chinese leader Xi Jinping On Saturday while on his way to a closed meeting at APEC. When asked on Sunday whether they discussed Taiwan or North Korea, she reiterated that they had talked about “keeping the lines of communication open.”

As the Biden administration aims to deepen ties, it must address human rights groups’ concerns about Marcus Jr. The Philippine leader has steadfastly defended the legacy of his father, a dictator who was overthrown in a pro-democracy uprising in 1986 amid human rights atrocities. loot.

Harris also plans to meet with Vice President Sara Duterte, the daughter of Marcos’ predecessor, who Oversaw a deadly anti-drug campaign which left thousands dead, most of them poor people, and led to an investigation by the International Criminal Court as a possible crime against humanity. The vice president defended her father’s presidency.

Given the Biden administration’s high-profile advocacy of democracy and human rights, its officials said human rights were high on the agenda in each of their engagements with Marcus Jr. and his officials.

After her meeting Monday with Marcus Jr., the US official said, Harris plans to meet with civil society activists to show the US commitment and continued support for human rights and democratic resilience.

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

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