Manila, Nov 22 (EFE).- United States Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday visited the Philippine island of Palawan, the closest coastline to the waters over which the country has a territorial dispute with Beijing at a time of growing tension in this area of the South China Sea.
Harris, on an official trip to the Philippines since Sunday, is scheduled to visit the port of the capital of Palawan, Puerto Princesa, a ship of the Coast Guard team that regularly monitors the islands occupied by the Philippines in the South China Sea – and to which Manila refers as the Western Philippine Sea.
The US vice president, who will also meet local fishermen’s associations, said Monday in Manila that she reaffirmed the military alliance between her country and the Philippines. She said the US would defend the country in the South China Sea, after meeting in Malacanang with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“We stand with you in upholding international rules and norms as they pertain to the South China Sea. An armed attack against the Armed Forces of the Philippines, public vessels or aircraft would invoke US mutual defense,” Harris said.
Harris’s visit to Palawan comes at a time of growing tension between China and the Philippines in the region, and coincides with a new altercation between the two countries’ coast guards. This occurred Sunday when a Philippine vessel tried to pick up an unidentified object near the Pag-asa Island, an islet occupied by the Philippines located about 570 kilometers off the western coast of Palawan.
When the Filipino crew had already begun to collect the object, an inflatable boat deployed by a Chinese coast guard ship rushed up and seized it, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said in a statement Monday.
The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines denied the day before the appropriation by force of the object, and claimed to have agreed to rescue the object with the Philippines.
China and the Philippines maintain a territorial conflict over the sovereignty of several islands and atolls in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims as its own for “historical reasons” despite being less than 200 miles from the western Philippine coast. This is a limit the United Nations established as the sovereign maritime border between states and to which China adhered in 1996.
In addition to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei claim parts of this sea – through which 30 percent of global trade circulates and home to 12 percent of the world’s fishing grounds, as well as oil and gas deposits – although China claims the waters’ sovereignty almost entirely.
The Philippines is the only country with a ruling supporting its claims, since the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague attributed in 2016 the ownership of several territories in the South China Sea, the Scarborough Atoll and part of the Spratly Archipelago, where China has built military bases.
China, which claims historical rights over the area, never recognized the ruling and continues its military and fishing activities within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. EFE