United States Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis was asked at the Plenary Session of the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore if Filipino public vessels and Philippine-occupied features in West Philippine Sea are covered by the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.
Mattis said they “maintain confidentiality at times in these [diplomatic] efforts.”
He also said “we stand by our treaty allies, but this is a discussion between the current administration in the Manila and in Washington D.C., and it’s not one that can be answered as simply as your question would indicate.”
US Defense Secretary Mattis’ full answer:
The — let me tell you that when we have discussions on these matters, the reason why public figures do not want to give specific answers is that these are complex issues. And when you start saying, “yes, no, black, white” — we have been on the record about international tribunals that say there is no such thing as a nine-dash line, or is no legal basis for this — we stand by international law. We stand by international tribunals. We listen to each nation’s concerns. And to simply turn it into a — a military or non-military response is — is a shortchanging of the issue.
This is what diplomacy is all about. Diplomacy is all about taking contrary perspectives and finding common ground. And we’ve got to try to do that in this world. Those of us who have worn uniforms, those who wear uniforms today, are keenly aware of the cost of war, and there has got to be a commitment, not a, “Well, when it suits me, I’ll listen to other nations.” Not, “When it suits me, I’ll listen to international tribunals.”
It’s go to be that we actually want to live by these rules, these rules that have allowed China to recover many people from the depths of poverty and bring up their quality of life; these rules have helped China. There is a reason why China, I believe, will eventually come to grips with the needs and the expectations of the neighbors around them.
And further, I would just tell you that we maintain confidentiality at times in these efforts, and I — you know, I mean it’s a free and open press here, and I — I support that, but at the same time, you can often do most of your good work and setting the conditions for a path ahead by not locking yourself into public statements where, understandably, people take each word separately apart and now pretty soon you’re — you’re locked into positions that do not allow the diplomats to find common ground.
So I’m not trying to give a — a civics class here, I just want you to understand why in many cases those who actually carry the responsibility do not go for, “It’s my way or the highway,” or there’s only one position. That would — might very well be a going in position, and we stand by our treaty allies, but this is a discussion between the current administration in the Manila and in Washington D.C., and it’s not one that can be answered as simply as your question would indicate.