MANILA Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured the Philippines on Saturday that the United States would come to its defence if it was attacked in the South China Sea and to allay concerns about the extent of the U.S. commitment to a mutual defence treaty.
In meetings in Manila dominated by discussions on simmering U.S.-China tensions over the Taiwan visit of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Blinken said that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels and aircraft will invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under the treaty.
The Philippines is an ally to the United States and a friend of the United States. Blinken was the most senior U.S. official to meet new President Ferdinand Marcos JrMarcos Jr, the son of the late strongman who Washington helped to flee into exile in Hawaii during a 1986 people power uprising that ended his two-decade rule.
In opening remarks to Blinken, Marcos tried to downplay the diplomatic flare-up over Taiwan and said he believed Pelosi's trip did not raise the intensity of a situation already volatile.
We've been at that level for a long time, but we have got used to it, Marcos said.
The Philippines is a crucial point in the midst of the geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China and Marcos. It is a difficult task to balance ties between the two major powers.
He will have to deal with domestic pressure to stand up to China in the South China Sea, without angering its leadership.
U.S.-Philippinese ties were shaken by predecessor Rodrigo Duterte's overtures towards China, his famous anti-U. S. rhetoric and threats to downgrade their military ties.
On Saturday, Philippines foreign secretary Enrique Manalo said President Joe Biden had invited Marcos to Washington and both sides are working on a suitable date.
Marcos has not been to the United States for more than a decade because of a contempt of court order for his refusal to cooperate with a Hawaii court. In 1995, the Marcos family was ordered to return $2 billion of missing state wealth to victims of abuses by the state under his father's rule.
The U.S. embassy in Manila said heads of state have diplomatic immunity.
He said Washington was an important ally, but he told Blinken that the Philippines looks at the big powers to calm the waters. He said that he can't afford any further escalation of tensions.