Blinken meets Marcos, stresses ‘ironclad’ support for Philippines in South China Sea

Top American diplomat is visiting Manila to lay groundwork for trilateral talks between the US, Philippines and Japan.
By Jason Gutierrez for BenarNews
2024.03.19
Manila, Philippines
Blinken meets Marcos, stresses ‘ironclad’ support for Philippines in South China Sea Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (R) meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Malacañang Palace in Manila, March 19, 2024.
Evelyn Hockstein/pool photo via AP

UPDATED at 12:46 P.M. ET on 03-19-2024

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about a “new horizon of cooperation” as he met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila on Tuesday to lay the groundwork for a three-way summit next month with leaders of the United States and Japan.

U.S. President Joe Biden is to host Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Washington on April 11 for an unprecedented meeting between the three leaders that will focus on protecting a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, the White House announced on Tuesday. 

Blinken’s visit to Manila, his second one as secretary of state, occurred against the backdrop of tensions between the Philippines and China in the contested South China Sea and regional tensions over Taiwan. Marcos hosted America’s top diplomat at the Malacañang Palace after Blinken met earlier in the day with his Philippine counterpart, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo. 

The two diplomats told reporters that the upcoming summit aimed to capitalize on “complementarities” among the countries, notably in infrastructure, critical minerals, energy and maritime security.

“I think that new horizon of cooperation is also incredibly, incredibly promising, but it’s building on the very strong foundation between our countries, where we have the same priorities, whether it’s economic development, whether it’s dealing with climate change, with food security, of course upholding international law,” Blinken told Marcos, according to a statement from the State Department. “All of these things are front and center.”

Marcos welcomed Blinken, saying he could “perhaps give us a better idea of what the – how things are progressing in the rest of the world, because, of course, all of these things impact us now.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo speak to reporters during a news conference at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila, March 19, 2024. (Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo speak to reporters during a news conference at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila, March 19, 2024. (Pool/AFP)
 

Blinken, who previously traveled to the Philippines in August 2022 shortly after Marcos took office, reiterated Washington’s “ironclad commitments” to defend the Philippines from outside aggression.

'Alliance has never been stronger'

Following his meeting with Manalo, Blinken told reporters, “the alliance has never been stronger, but we not only have to sustain that, we have to continue to accelerate the momentum.”

The secretary of state’s visit comes at a crucial moment in relations between the two allies who have ramped up defense cooperation amid increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, including in waters that fall within the Philippine’s exclusive economic zone.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea while dismissing the territorial claims of several Southeast Asian nations and Taiwan.

During the news conference with his counterpart, Manalo said he had thanked Blinken for Washington’s “consistent support,” particularly in regard to Chinese harassment of Filipino supply boats.

In the most recent incident, four Filipinos sustained minor injuries earlier this month when China Coast Guard ships intercepted a supply boat and fired water cannons.

“We discussed regional issues, especially the situation in the South China Sea, and I stated that the Philippines is committed to managing disputes in accordance with our national interests, the rules-based international order and international law, especially UNCLOS,” Manalo said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“We reaffirmed our shared view that a strong and capable Philippines would make a formidable ally for the United States.”

Blinken said the two allies had shared concerns about Chinese “actions that threaten our common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” including within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

“Repeated violations of international law and the rights of the Philippines – water cannons, blocking maneuvers, close shadowing, other dangerous operations – these waterways are critical to the Philippines, to its security, to its economy, but they’re also critical to the interests of the region, the United States, and the world,” Blinken said.

Filipino activists protest at the Mendiola Peace Arch outside the presidential Malacañang Palace in Manila ahead of a meeting between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, March 19, 2024. (Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews)
Filipino activists protest at the Mendiola Peace Arch outside the presidential Malacañang Palace in Manila ahead of a meeting between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, March 19, 2024. (Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews)

Meanwhile, dozens of Filipino activists gathered at the Mendiola Peace Arch outside the Malacañang Palace to protest against the presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines.

Chinese reaction

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said the U.S. had no right to interfere in disputes between Manila and Beijing and China would take the necessary actions to defend its territory.

“The U.S. is not a party to the South China Sea issue and has no right to interfere in the maritime issues between China and the Philippines. The military cooperation between the U.S. and the Philippines should not undermine China’s sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, nor should it be used to support the illegal claims of the Philippines,” the spokesman said.

“China will continue to take necessary steps to firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests and uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

Security analyst Chester Cabalza, the founding president of the Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said Blinken's visit “serves as a regular check-up to the robust U.S.-Philippine defense relations.”

“Secretary Blinken’s meeting with President Marcos is a reassurance of the ironclad commitment that the U.S. promised the Philippines,” Cabalza told BenarNews. “It definitely signifies a more solid commitment from the U.S. since it initiated a joint patrol in the West Philippine Sea to a possible trilateral agreement among friends with the Philippines and Japan.”

Camille Elemia contributed reporting from Manila. BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

The report has been updated to include, among others, comments from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during their meeting in Manila. The headline was also updated.

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