US reaffirms applicability of defense treaty in SCS amid massing of Chinese militia vessels

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United States and Philippines National Security Advisors Jake Sullivan and Hermogenes Esperon talked through phone on March 31 with Chinese Maritime Militia vessels in Juan Felipe (Whitsun) Reef as among the topic discussed.

Sullivan reaffirmed to Esperon that the United States-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty applies in the South China Sea (SCS).

“The National Security Advisors discussed their shared concerns regarding the recent massing of People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia vessels at Whitsun Reef,” US National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement.

Horne noted that “Sullivan underscored that the United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order, and reaffirmed the applicability of the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty in the South China Sea.”

“The National Security Advisors agreed that the United States and the Philippines will continue to coordinate closely in responding to challenges in the South China Sea,” she added.

On March 31, the Philippine government National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said that as of March 29, 44 Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels remain moored, anchored, and stationary at Julian Felipe Reef.

“In addition, one hundred fifteen (115) CMM vessels are now monitored in Chigua (Kennan) Reef, forty-five (45) vessels in Pag-asa (Thitu) Islands and the other fifty (50) vessels are dispersed in Panganiban (Mischief), Kagitingan (Fiery), and Zamora (Subi) Reefs, all within the Kalayaan Island Group,” NTF-WPS said.

“The Philippines calls on China to immediately withdraw these vessels flying its flag. NTF-WPS stands by its observation that these so-called “fishing” vessels are maritime militia. Their build-up and massing formation from Julian Felipe Reef to other areas of the Kalayaan Island Group is hazardous to navigation and safety of life at sea. They may be doing illicit activities at night and their lingering (swarming) presence may cause irreparable damage to the marine environment due to marine pollution and destruction of coral reefs. Their swarming also poses a threat to the peaceful exercise of sovereign rights of the Philippines in its EEZ,” the NTF-WPS said.