Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has committed to helping the Philippines defend its territory in the South China Sea, as China continues to aggressively pursue its own claims to territory.
Speaking after a meeting with the country’s leader, Rodrigo Duterte, Pompeo reaffirmed that the U.S. would any defend Filipino forces under threat by China and invoked the two countries’ 1951 mutual defense treaty, which affirms that the two countries would come to each other’s aid in case of an “armed attack in the Pacific area” on either party.
“Any armed attack on any Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations under article IV of our mutual defense treaty,” Pompeo said. However, he also warned that the U.S. would “not make trouble out of nothing.”
“If outside countries like the US truly consider the peace, stability, and welfare of local residents, they should not make waves when there is no wind,” he explained. “A country’s own government and people understand better than any other countries what their own advantages are.”
Responding to Pompeo’s remark, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang insisted there was “nothing to be worried about” and the situation in the South China Sea was increasingly stable.
“China and the neighboring countries in the South China Sea area are making efforts to safeguard regional peace and stability,” Lu noted, “so if countries from outside the region, such as the United States, truly care about peace, stability and wellbeing of the people in the region, they should not start uncalled-for trouble or be deliberately provocative.”
Since becoming president in 2016, Duterte has become the target of internal criticism for his failure to stand up to China’s aggressive pursuit of the territory, which has included increased militarization and opening up operations designed to extract the area’s most precious natural resources. Other claimants such as Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Last May, Duterte declared that he was willing to “go to war” to protect his country’s claims to the territory, but most analysts believe that such claims are little more than meaningless rhetoric.
Instead of standing up to Beijing, Duterte has forged warm diplomatic relations with China in an attempt to promote trade ties and inward investment, even suggesting that the Philippines could become a Chinese province. According to a survey released in July, over 70 percent of Filipinos want Duterte to step up his country’s territorial claims in the region, while a majority of Filipinos have far more trust in their relationship with the United States than that of China.