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Philippines to call US for help if China attacks navy

Duterte administration says it could invoke Mutual Defense Treaty with US if China attacks its naval vessels

U.S.S. Nimitz.

U.S.S. Nimitz. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Philippine senior official on Wednesday (Aug. 26) indicated the country would invoke its Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the U.S. if China attacked its naval vessels.

During an interview with ANC on Wednesday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr said that in the event a Philippine naval ship is attacked by a Chinese warship or an incident occurs "beyond incursion" in the West Philippine Sea, his country would turn to the U.S. for help. This is the first time a Duterte administration official has indicated the Philippines would invoke its MDT with the U.S.

The comment came in response to a statement by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Aug. 21, when he condemned Philippine air patrols over the South China Sea as "illegal provocations." Locsin said, "They can call it illegal provocations, you can’t change their minds. They already lost the arbitral award," in reference to the ruling by the international tribunal in The Hague rebuking China's claims to the South China Sea.

Locsin then stated, “Until something happens that is beyond incursion that, in fact, is an attack on say, a Philippine vessel — a naval vessel — in which case, then I call up Washington D.C.,” reported the Manila Bulletin. When asked to provide more details on what specific circumstances Manila would invoke the MDT, he replied, “I will not discuss that because the essence of deterrence theory is uncertainty. I’m a long time student of deterrence theory."

Earlier in August, Locsin spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the U.S. rejected China's claims to the South China Sea in July. During a discussion held among ASEAN representatives on Aug. 6, Locsin and Pompeo "discussed the recent change in U.S. policy on maritime claims in the South China Sea, U.S. support for Southeast Asian coastal states upholding their sovereign rights and interests consistent with international law, and opportunities for further U.S.-Philippine maritime cooperation," according to the State Department.

In March of 2019, Pompeo pledged that the U.S. would come to the aid of the Philippines in the event is forces or vessels were attacked in the South China Sea. "As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on any Philippine forces, aircraft, or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty," said Pompeo according to the State Department.