The US and the Philippines’ top diplomats talked about the American position on maritime claims in the South China Sea, decrying China’s “campaign of bullying” to control resources in the disputed waters in a call on Aug. 6.

In a statement on Friday, the US Department of State said US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. discussed opportunities for further US-Philippine maritime cooperation.

Pompeo and Locsin also talked about US support for Southeast Asian coastal states in “upholding their sovereign rights and interests consistent with international law.” 

The two top diplomats recalled “the strong economic, security, and people-to-people ties” that bind the US and the Philippines, the US State Department said.

President Rodrigo Duterte pivoted toward Beijing and proclaimed an “independent foreign policy” upon assuming office in 2016, and has opted not to assert a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s historical claims, including its nine-dash-line map that claims almost the entire South China Sea.

Duterte recently  issued a directive against any involvement in naval exercises in South China Sea to avoid tensions.

After the Chinese government welcomed Duterte’s order, Locsin sent a tweet to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, saying that the Philippine position on the arbitral ruling has been “consistent and clear”: “What is ours is ours under the arbitral award and no one else can tell us different. Our relations have been going really well. Let’s keep it that way.”

On July 13, Pompeo said “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”

“In the [South China Sea], we seek to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law, maintain the unimpeded flow of commerce and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes…. The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” he said in a statement.

53rd Asean anniversary

In a separate statement, Pompeo expressed his gratitude to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on its 53rd year, noting that its partnership with the US remained strong amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Despite the enormous challenge presented by the pandemic, we are proving the strength of our relationship by leveraging our government, private sector, and charitable partnerships to support our shared health and prosperity,” Pompeo said.

The US government has pledged about $85 million in health and humanitarian assistance to Asean countries since the coronavirus outbreak.

“We will continue to promote transparent economic growth between our countries during the post-pandemic recovery. The United States looks forward to many more years of partnership with Asean,” he added. John Ezekiel J. Hirro