Washington, May 1 (EFE).- President Joe Biden and his Filipino counterpart, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., on Monday agreed to tighten bilateral military cooperation to deal with Beijing’s expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea.
At the start of their White House meeting, Biden promised the Filipino leader that the Washington will help Manila modernize its armed forces and committed the US to defending the Asian archipelago nation if it is attacked, as per the mutual defense agreement the two nations signed in 1951 during the Cold War.
“The United States remains ironclad in our commitment to the defense of The Philippines, including the South China Sea,” Biden told Marcos before television cameras in the Oval Office, adding that Washington will continue to help with the modernization of the Filipino military.
Meanwhile, Marcos said that military cooperation with the US is a positive step toward halting the “rising tensions” in the South China Sea, adding that the Asian Pacific region is facing “possibly the most complicated geopolitical situation in the world right now.”
The meeting between the two leaders comes with the background of the ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea, where both Beijing and Manila dispute the sovereignty of the Scarborough Shoal coral reef atoll and part of the largely uninhabited Spratly Islands.
Last Friday, Manila complained about the fact that on April 23 Chinese vessels had made “dangerous maneuvers” around the Ayungin atoll and had placed the crews of Filipino coast guard vessels in danger, something that Beijing denies, claiming that its vessels were only defending their country’s national sovereignty.
The US had already condemned the incident over the weekend and demanded that China stop its “provocations” in the South China Sea, through which 30 percent of global trade passes and which contains 12 percent of the world’s fishing grounds along with deposits of petroleum and natural gas.
Apart from its words of condemnation, the White House announced Monday that it will send to The Philippines three military C-130 cargo planes, an aircraft that has been produced for the past 70 years with assorted upgrades and which is used for transporting many of the world’s militaries.
In addition, the White House announced the transfer of six Coast Guard vessels, including two Cyclone boats, the sale of which to Manila was approved in April and which it said are now are en route to the Asian nation.
The Cyclone vessels were used, for example, during the Iraq War in 2003 but the US Navy has retired their ports, and thus the last such units are being sold to countries like The Philippines, Egypt and Bahrain.
According to top US officials, one of Washington’s main objectives in transferring these vessels is to strengthen the ability of the Filipino military to defend itself at sea, an area where China has made huge investments.
In addition, Biden and Marcos on Monday signed an agreement to improve cooperation between the two nations’ militaries on all levels, from air, maritime and land combat to cybersecurity and even in space.
The two presidents also signed accords on economic and educational issues and to fight climate change.
Among other things, Biden announced that he will send a trade mission to The Philippines, the first of its kind, with the aim of increasing investments by US firms in the Filipino economy with special emphasis on the transition to clean energy and the extraction of critical minerals, which are key to building equipment such as solar panels and computers.
Relations between Washington and Manila have improved since Marcos came to power in June 2022. During the previous administration of Rodrigo Duterte – who governed The Philippines from 2016-2022 – bilateral relations had soured because of human rights violations committed during his mandate and his decision to move closer politically and economically to China.