VP Harris to visit front-line Philippine island in sea feud

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris will highlight America’s commitment to the Philippines during a visit that begins Sunday and will include a flight to the disputed island nation bordering the South China Sea. Nations.

After attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Thailand, Harris will fly to Manila on Sunday night and meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday for talks aimed at strengthening Washington’s long-standing pact and economic ties in Asia, a senior US administration official said. Unidentified as a practice in the online briefing prior to the visit.

Her trip to Thailand “was very successful,” Harris said as she reiterated America’s commitment to the environment at a roundtable discussion on climate change Sunday afternoon.

Climate activists, civil society members and business leaders are focused on clean energy and the threat of climate change to the Mekong River, which more than 60 million people in Southeast Asia use for food, water and transport. Harris announced that the United States plans to provide up to $20 million in funding for clean energy in the region through the Japan-US Mekong Power Partnership.

Before her flight, she stopped by a local market and browsed several shops, struck up a conversation with the shopkeepers, and bought some Thai green curry paste.

On Tuesday, she will fly to Palawan, a state bordering the South China Sea, to meet fishermen, villagers, officials and coast guards. Once there, she will become the highest-ranking US leader to visit the border island at the forefront of territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippine Coast Guard is scheduled to receive Harris aboard its largest patrol vessel, the BRP Teresa Magbanua, in Palawan, where she is scheduled to speak, Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo said.

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Harris will emphasize the importance of international law, unrestricted trade and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the US official said.

China can view the visit any way it wants, the official said, but Washington’s message shows that the US is committed to the security of its partners in the region as a member of the Indo-Pacific region.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington, Jose Manuel Rovaldez, said Harris’ visit to Palawan showed America’s support for a friendly ally and China’s actions in the disputed sea.

“This is as clear as you can get, the message you’re trying to send to the Chinese is that we support our partners like the Philippines on these islands,” Rovaldez told The Associated Press. “This visit is a big step to show how serious the United States is about this situation.”

Washington and Beijing have been on a collision course for a long time. While the United States has no claim to the strategic waterway, which carries an estimated $5 trillion in global trade annually, it says freedom of navigation and navigation in the South China Sea is in the U.S. national interest.

China opposes U.S. naval and air force protections in the busy waterway, which Beijing says is almost complete. Washington has warned against becoming embroiled in what it says is an all-out Asian territorial conflict — one that has long been feared as a front in the US-China rivalry in the region.

In July, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called on China to comply with a 2016 arbitration ruling that undermined Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea and warned that Washington had a duty to defend its treaty partner, the Philippines, if its forces, ships or aircraft came under its control. Attack in the disputed waters.

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China rejected the ruling in 2016 under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an arbitration instituted in The Hague, after the Philippine government complained about China’s aggressive actions in disputed waters in 2013. Beijing did not participate in the arbitration, dismissed the ruling as a sham and continued the ruling.

Harris’ visit is the latest sign of growing ties between Washington and Manila under Marcos Jr., who won a landslide election victory in June.

America’s relationship with the Philippines went through a rough patch under Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who threatened to sever ties with Washington and expel American forces, and tried to scrap a major defense deal with the United States while maintaining good relations with China and Russia. .

When President Joe Biden met Marcos Jr. for the first time on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, he stressed how the US views its relationship with the Philippines, despite some headwinds.

“We’ve had some shaky moments, but the reality is, from our point of view, it’s a critical, critical relationship. I hope you feel the same way,” Biden said. Marcos Jr. told him, “We are your allies. We are your partners. We are your friends.

The rapprochement comes at a critical time when the United States needs to build a defensive presence amid growing security threats in the region, Rovaldez said.

Philippine military chief Lt. Gen. Bartolome Baccaro said last week that the United States wants to build five more military facilities in the northern Philippines under a 2014 defense cooperation agreement, which would allow US forces to build warehouses and temporary living quarters in the Philippines. Military camps.

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The Philippine constitution prohibits foreign military bases, but at least two defense treaties allow temporary visits by US forces with aircraft and naval vessels for joint military exercises, combat training and to respond to natural disasters.

The northern Philippines is strategically located on the coast from Taiwan and could serve as a critical outlet if tensions between China and the self-ruled island continue to escalate.

Harris spoke briefly on Saturday on his way to a closed-door meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at APEC. Asked whether they discussed Taiwan or North Korea on Sunday, she reiterated that they talked about “maintaining open lines of communication.”

The Biden administration will have to address human rights groups’ concerns about Marcos Jr. as it seeks to strengthen ties. and robbery.

Harris also plans to meet with Vice President Sarah Duterte, the former daughter of Marcos, who oversaw a deadly anti-drug crackdown that has killed thousands of mostly poor suspects. The vice president defended her father’s presidency.

Given the Biden administration’s high-profile advocacy for democracy and human rights, officials said human rights were on the agenda in every interaction with Marcos Jr. and his officials.

After her meeting with Marcos Jr. on Monday, Harris plans to meet with civil society activists to demonstrate America’s commitment and continued support for human rights and democratic resilience, the US official said.

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Associated Press writer Krutika Patti contributed from Bangkok.

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