Meet with U.S. execs tackles SCS

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez on Saturday disclosed that Manila and Washington are planning to hold a “2-plus-2 meeting” among diplomatic and defense officials by March.

Romualdez said the agenda for the meeting, the first in seven years, would include strengthening bilateral defense and its control in the South China Sea.

In November last year, US Vice President Kamala Harris assured Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. of the American government’s “unwavering” commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty during their first bilateral meeting in the Malacañang Palace.

Harris, the highest-ranking US official to visit Manila since Marcos took the helm of Malacañang, reaffirmed that the US would stand by the Philippines in the event of an attack in the South China Sea.
Harris’s visit to Manila is the first visit in six years by a high-ranking US official since former President Donald Trump’s in 2017.

The MDT, the longest-running defense pact signed in 1951, seeks to boost the defense and security cooperation between the Philippine and US armed forces.

Meanwhile, the Philippines is open to conducting “regular consultations” with the United States — its oldest defense ally — to identify joint maritime activities that the two nations can launch.

Convening for the 10th Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue last Friday, Manila welcomed Washington’s offer for consultations to distinguish potential maritime activities.

The two countries also agreed to pursue cooperation for stronger partnership and alliance and promote an “international law-based maritime order.”

“Reiterating the importance of maintaining and promoting an international law-based maritime order in the South China Sea, in accordance with UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal decision, and recognizing the value of an integrated and comprehensive approach to addressing maritime issues,” their joint statement read.

UNCLOS or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is an international agreement that creates a legal framework for all marine and maritime activities.

The Philippines and China have overlapping claims over the South China Sea even if the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague already ruled in favor of the former’s petition against the latter in 2016.

China, however, continues to disregard the verdict despite international pressure.

Harris noted that the “strong relationship” between Washington and Beijing is based on their “mutual commitments to international rules and norms.”

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