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US-Philippines Defense Treaty Covers Chinese Attack In South China Sea: Blinken

But China indicated statements that Beijing's maritime claims in the region have no legal grounds are "untrue".

BEIJING — The United States on July 12 reaffirmed its commitment to defend the Philippines against a Chinese attack in the South China Sea under their 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

On the fifth anniversary of an international ruling dismissing China’s claims in the South China Sea, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea.

“We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” the US Secretary of State said.

Article IV of the treaty states: “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

Blinken called on China to abide by its obligations under international law and cease its provocative behavior and respect the rights of “all countries, big and small.”

Not long after Blinken’s statement, China protested the remarks he made, reaffirming that Washington views Beijing’s South China Sea maritime claims were unlawful under their Mutual Defense Treaty.

Addressing a press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that the US statement ignores the objective facts regarding the South China Sea issue. 

“The US statement disregards the historical merits and objective facts of the South China Sea,” the statement read. 

“The issue violates and distorts international law and breaks the US government’s long-held public commitment of not taking a position on the South China Sea sovereignty issue.”

“It deliberately stokes disputes on territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, sows discord among regional countries, and undermines regional peace and stability,” the statement further read. 

“This is extremely irresponsible. China is strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to the wrong act by the US side.”

China’s sovereignty, rights, and interests in the South China Sea have been formed in the course of a long history. They are supported by abundant historical and legal basis and upheld by the Chinese government all along. 

“No country raised any objection to this position until the 1970s. The US accusation that our maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea have no basis in international law totally runs counter to facts,” read the statement.

The statement further said that Beijing’s maritime claims in the region have no legal grounds are “absolutely untrue,” the Chinese spokesperson claimed while rejecting the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

Earlier, Blinken had said China continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway.

Tensions have remained high since March between the Philippines and China after hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted in the disputed portions of the hotly contested South China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

Even five years after an international arbitration court ruled that most of China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis, Beijing’s behavior has not been altered much. 

As per the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, it continues to act largely unrestrained in one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. 

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Pallavi Mehra)

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