US Vice President, Kamala Harrismet this Monday with the Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos during a visit to the archipelago to strengthen ties and counter China’s growing influence in the region.
Harris is the highest-ranking US official to visit Manila since Marcos’ takeover in June, and his trip marks a further interaction between two old allies whose relations cooled with former president Rodrigo Duterte, close to Beijing.
The US vice president also met with her Philippine counterpart Sarah Dutertedaughter of the former leader whose deadly war on drugs is the subject of an international investigation.
Tension episode at sea
The Philippine Armed Forces on Monday denounced an incident between Chinese and Philippine coast guard vessels near a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea, one day after Kamala Harris visited the Philippine island of Palawan, the closest coastline to the disputed waters.
The incident occurred when a Philippine coast guard vessel tried to pick up an unidentified object drifting near Pag-asa Islandan islet occupied by the Philippines and located about 290 nautical miles off the western coast of Palawan and close to a Chinese-appropriated island in the disputed Spratly archipelago.
When the Filipino crew members had already begun to collect the object, a dinghy deployed by a Chinese coast guard vessel rushed in and seized itaccording to the statement sent to EFE by the spokesman for the Philippine Armed Forces in the South China Sea (WESTCOM), Maj. Cherryl Tindog. The Chinese crew members “cut the rope that connected the boat with the drifting debris” and took it towards the Chinese shipTindog explained.
Hours after the clash between the two patrol boats, “explosions or artillery fire” was heard, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper, which was able to speak with several residents of Pag-asa, the only island occupied by the Philippines that has civilian settlements and whose population is around 190 residents, including military and civilian personnel.
Washington approaches Manila
The United States has had a long and complex relationship with the Philippines and the Marcos family.
The patriarch and father of the current president led this former US colony for two decades in a dictatorial manner and with the backing of Washington, which saw him as an ally in the Cold War.
Now, the White House wants to reinvigorate its security alliance with Manila under his son’s presidency, including a mutual defense treaty and a 2014 pact that allows the United States to store defense equipment and supplies at five Philippine bases.
This agreement, acronym EDCA, was paralyzed with Duterte but now both countries want to speed up its implementation in the face of China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy in the region.
On Tuesday, Harris will visit the Philippine island of Palawanwhich lies just below some disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost all of this sea, in conflict with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
A 2016 international ruling ruled that China’s claims were unfounded, but the Asian giant has ignored it.
Harris “will reaffirm the strength of the alliance and our commitment to uphold the international legal order in the South China Sea” and in the Asia-Pacific region, a US official said.
The trip to the Philippines is part of Washington’s efforts to underscore its commitment to the region in the face of China’s growing influence.
The thorny relations between the two powers seemed to get back on track with two meetings last week between US President Joe Biden and Harris with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
(With information from AFP and EFE)
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