The U.S. and the Philippines have agreed to enhance defense cooperation, increasing joint security activities next year amid tension in the South China Sea.
“Today, we addressed regional security challenges together as friends, allies, and partners,” Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said after their mutual defense board meeting in Manila. “Our national security, including economic security, is reliant on a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order.”
More than 300 security cooperation activities have been planned for 2020, an increase from the 281 lined up this year as the two nations committed to enhance cooperation in counter-terrorism, maritime security, cyber security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The U.S. has been seeking to reassure allies in Southeast Asia of its commitment to the region. In March, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the mutual defense treaty with the Philippines would apply if its vessels or planes were attacked in the South China Sea.
In a separate forum, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is at risk if China continues to militarize its reclaimed facilities in the area as it will have the capability to deter peaceful passage.