Secretary of the Navy warns Asian aggressors will be confronted by Western power

MANILA, Philippines — Any Asian aggressor who violates the sovereignty of other countries in the region risks punitive counter-actions, much like what Russia is facing now for its invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. Secretary of State said. Marine in a veiled warning to the increasingly assertive China. behaviour.

Carlos Del Toro told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday night in Manila that US military focus in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the disputed South China Sea, will never let up and has in fact intensified. despite the war in Ukraine.

He did not name China but pointed out that Beijing had encroached on the sovereign waters of its Asian neighbors and violated international law with impunity.

He renewed President Joe Biden’s assurance that the United States would honor its obligations under a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty in the event that Philippine forces, ships and aircraft were attacked in the disputed South China Sea, where Manila and Beijing have had increasingly tense territorial disputes over the past decade.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also claim the strategic waterway, one of the busiest in the world, which China claims virtually in its entirety for historical reasons. Beijing rejected a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated its claims and continues to defy the landmark ruling.

“As President Biden has said, if any country violates an inch of Filipino sovereignty, whether at sea, on land or on an offshore island, we will be there to support the Filipino nation and the Filipino people of all ages. possible ways,” Del told Toro.

China’s decision to turn seven disputed reefs into missile-protected island bases in the Spratlys, the most contested section of the South China Sea, “is deeply concerning” and has prompted the United States and other countries to pursue freedom of navigation patrols around territories claimed by China to emphasize “that they are not in the possession of the PRC”, he said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

Chinese officials were not immediately available to comment on Del Toro’s remarks, but they have repeatedly warned the United States to stay away from what it says is a purely Asian dispute. Chinese forces have occasionally responded to US and Australian air and sea patrols by firing flares and using jamming equipment to warn them to move away. Some US Navy ships have been closely pursued, US military officials say.

Chinese actions increase the risk of miscalculations and US forces have been trained “to be very disciplined” and stick to long-established rules of engagement to avoid confrontations, Del Toro said.

“It is important to film all these illegal actions that these countries are actually committing so that the whole world can see exactly how they are behaving,” he said.

Del Toro said would-be Asian aggressors should learn from the current unrest from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has faced sanctions from Western countries and their allies, who also provide arms and humanitarian support to Ukrainians.

“I think it’s a great lesson that countries that were free, democratic and principled will work together against adversaries that weren’t,” he said.

If ever such a level of aggression is committed in the Asia-Pacific, “I am confident that allies and partners will come together to do the same here in the Pacific,” Del Toro said.

After meetings in Singapore and Thailand, Del Toro flew to the Philippines this week to meet with senior military and defense officials and hold, he said, “confidential discussions on capabilities additional that we could actually continue to help provide to the Philippines, a call for greater cooperation for more…complicated exercises.

He cited the expansion of US combat exercises with Philippine forces and an ongoing 26-nation exercise in Hawaii involving 38 warships, four submarines and thousands of military personnel. Called the Rim of the Pacific exercise, the exercises are the largest in the world held every two years.

US military engagement with the Philippines ran into difficulties under former President Rodrigo Duterte, who threatened to end the presence of visiting US forces and a key defense pact that allowed thousands of US Marines and soldiers train in Washington’s oldest treaty country in Asia. But the alliance held firm.

The brash populist had often criticized US security policy while maintaining cozy ties to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin. His tirades against Washington subsided after it provided millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine at the height of the pandemic in the Philippines.

Del Toro’s visit reflects a new charm offensive by Washington following Duterte’s exit and the recent election of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Del Toro was behind a recent decision to name a future US Navy destroyer USS Telesforo Trinidad, after a Filipino-American sailor who rescued two crew members when their ship caught fire more than a century ago.

“It’s symbolic of the ties between our two nations, our commitment to shared values…freedom and democracy,” he said.

Associated Press reporter Aaron Favila contributed to this report.

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