Alwaght- The US and the the Philippines discussed China’s recent activities around islands in the South China Sea, where Manila has designated an economic zone.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Filipino counterpart, Hermogenes Esperon, agreed in a telephone conversation on Wednesday that Washington and Manila would “continue to coordinate closely in responding to challenges in the South China Sea,” the White House said in statement.
“Sullivan underscored that the United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order, and reaffirmed the applicability of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the South China Sea,” the statement added.
The discussion came after Manila accused China of scattering “maritime militia” inside the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) at Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea.
Chinese diplomats have rejected the claim, saying the boats were sheltering from rough seas and no militias were on board.
Reports said as many as 200 Chinese ships had berthed at Whitsun Reef, approximately 320 kilometers west of Palawan Island, and within the Philippine EEZ.
Manila had earlier urged Beijing to withdraw the ships, calling their presence in the area an “incursion into its sovereign territory.”
China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam have competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, a key global trading route that is also rich in natural resources.
The Philippines won an arbitration case on the dispute at The Hague-based International Court of Arbitration in 2016, which rejected Beijing’s sweeping claims to much of the disputed waterway. China rejected that ruling as void.
The US sides with Beijing’s opponents in the territorial dispute and regularly dispatches warships and warplanes to the South China Sea to conduct what it calls “freedom of navigation” patrols.