MANILA — The US will remain as the “only military ally” of the Philippines, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said late Monday, following reports of increased Chinese presence in disputed territory on the South China Sea.
The military recently expressed concern over the Chinese “maritime militia” vessels that have been almost stationary near Pag-asa (Thitu) Island since January.
A Twitter follower asked Locsin if he would rather have China instead of US in the area, after another follower claimed that an arbitral ruling invalidating Beijing’s claims to the waterway only benefited Washington’s freedom of navigation operations.
“The US is and will remain our only military ally. You can’t make an ally out of a near power—too close for comfort. Natural allies are US across Pacific and Russia behind China,” Locsin replied.
“With China, friendship is wisest; never a military alliance. The logic of balance of power,” he said.
Washington and Manila are bound by a half century-old Mutual Defense Treaty and military forces from the 2 countries countries engage in regular war games that see thousands of US troops and American military hardware brought to Manila.
However, the treaty’s role in the Philippines’ sea dispute with China is unclear.
Under US interpretation, the treaty covers only “metropolitan” Philippines and does not include the Filipino-occupied areas in the South China Sea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said last year as he sought a review of the pact.
Does PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty cover the South China Sea?
US officials have repeatedly expressed concern over China’s continued building of military installations on artificial islands and reefs in the strategic waterway.
Rising sea levels “will wipe out the issue of disputed reefs” in the area, Locsin said in a tweet last Saturday.
“At the UN Security Council, I said the Philippines would not regret climate change and rising sea level if it covers the disputed reefs in the Sea China Sea and exposes the foolishness of taking and weaponizing them,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to assert Manila’s claims in the disputed waters as he sought closer economic and diplomatic ties with Beijing.