US, Philippines assess defense treaty, China wary

U.S. and Filipino military officials have held initial talks to assess the future of their countries’ 70-year mutual defense treaty, including revising it to a possible extent that has made China suspicious, the chief said Thursday. the Philippine defense.

The 1951 treaty commits the United States and the Philippines to help each other in the event of an attack. U.S. officials have repeatedly assured their Filipino counterparts that they will honor their treaty obligations if Filipino forces, ships and planes come under attack in the contested South China Sea, including from China.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the treaty could be repealed, replaced or revised after several decades. The treaty alliance is the oldest of the United States in Asia.

“Initial discussions have taken place between officials of the two militaries to reach consensus on how to move forward,” Lorenzana said in videotaped remarks at an online forum that discussed the issues. issues surrounding the treaty.

“While the United States welcomes the idea of ​​revisiting the EMD, an outside party is not. When I first brought up the idea of ​​revisiting the EMD, the former Chinese Ambassador came to me and said, “Please don’t touch the EMD, let’s go. as is, ”Lorenzana said, without giving details.

A Filipino diplomat told The Associated Press that China may be concerned about authorities in the Philippines and the United States who may insert provisions that could threaten Beijing’s security interests if the treaty is amended. They could recognize, for example, a 2016 international arbitration decision that invalidated China’s vast land claims in the South China Sea on historical grounds, said the diplomat, who requested anonymity on the grounds of a lack of authority to speak in public.

China and the Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei are grappling with a tense standoff over territorial disputes in the busy waterway. There are fears that the long-simmering disputes could spark a war that could ruin bustling economies in Asia and elsewhere.

Lorenzana said there had been suggestions for revising the treaty to address current regional security concerns, including China’s use of civilian militias instead of military forces to seize territory in disputed waters. in order to avoid a military dispute that could give the United States and the Philippines a reason to activate their treaty.

Chinese Embassy officials did not immediately respond to Lorenzana’s remarks. China has warned the United States not to intervene in what it says is a purely Asian dispute that governments in the region are trying to resolve peacefully through negotiations.

Washington makes no claims in the disputed waters, but has said peaceful dispute resolution, as well as freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed waterway, is in its national interest.

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