US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that “any armed attack on Philippine forces??in the South China Sea would trigger the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty requiring military intervention by US troops. This marks the first time that the US has publicly stated its intention to defend the Philippines. Washington didn’t promise military intervention even when Beijing and Manila had more disputes in the South China Sea years ago.
Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, China-Philippines relations have seen a turnaround. One of his reasons was that the US wouldn’t help the Philippines if China and the Philippines had clashes over islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
We believe that not many Philippine people would take Pompeo’s statement seriously, nor would Manila blindly adopt aggressive policies toward Beijing just because of Pompeo’s words. Instead of making the promise years ago, Pompeo did it just when tranquility has returned to the South China Sea. It’s obvious that the US is stirring up trouble in China-Philippines relations.
Aiming at benefiting both China and the Philippines, Beijing is committed to improving relations with Manila and maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. The US and the Philippines interpretation of the MDT won’t change China’s attitude toward disputes in the South China Sea.
Although Vietnam is not a US ally, China still exercises restraint in China-Vietnam disputes. But China will respond forcefully to whoever goes too far in the South China Sea, including US troops.
There are also Philippine people who wonder what kind of China-US relations will benefit Manila the most. They worry the tensions between the two countries will affect the Philippines. They are also afraid that Manila’s interests will be harmed if Beijing and Washington improve relations. They want to use the US as a bargaining chip with China, and use China-Philippines relations to win US regard. These people are playing a complicated triangular game.
Pompeo’s visit to the Philippines shows that Washington and Manila are using each other. China should understand that the US and the Philippines are allies, and this fact won’t change in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, China is more and more important to the Philippines in economics. The two countries should manage their differences. Both sides will hurt if the disputes escalate.
Beijing shouldn’t care or be contained by Washington and Manila’s petty tricks. China-US relations and China-Philippines relations should be separated, and thus we can maintain more initiative in our strategy.
Big changes are unlikely in China-Philippines relations during Duterte’s term of office. Instead of completely leaning toward Beijing, Duterte has made Manila independent from Washington. The Philippine people’s opinions of China and the US are diverse, which reflects the fact that the Philippines is somehow neutral.
What’s most ridiculous is that Pompeo warned the Philippines not to use China’s Huawei Technologies and wanted the world to have “their eyes wide open” to Huawei’s risks. We believe the whole world should instead keep their eyes wide open to Washington’s selfish tricks.
Washington is interested in extorting its allies and other small and medium-sized countries. It tends to instigate these countries to intensify disputes with China and Russia. It uses hollow promises to make these countries serve Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing and Moscow.
The US hasn’t provided any massive aid to other countries in recent years and has refused to fulfill international obligations. Smaller countries would turn out to be naive if they blindly believe Washington’s hollow promises.
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