Philippines – US treaty: Reason of Plausible Conflict in South China Sea

B-52 South China Sea

Recently, American B-52 bomber took over a flyover drill over the South China Sea contested region, which raised a wave of threat of war with China. In a statement issued by Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) under which such a drill is performed is highly risky.

As per the statement given by the Lorenzana, the MTD signed by is ambiguous and vague in nature that has the potential of building up “confusion and chaos during a crisis.”

Expressing his concern, Lorenzana said, “The Philippines is not in a conflict with anyone and will not be at war with anyone in the future. But the United States, with the increased and frequent passage of its naval vessels in the West Philippine Sea, is more likely to be involved in a shooting war. In such a case and on the basis of the MDT, the Philippines will be automatically involved.”

Locally known as “The West Philippine Sea”, the South China Sea is a conflicted geographical region to which China has claimed its authority by establishing militarized islands and reefs. As per signed MTD, US navy has been conducting free military drills in the region raising tensions between the US and the Philippines.

The MTD deal was signed in 1951, early years of the Cold War, to protect the region. Under this treaty both the countries were to provide assistance if an “armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific”. But now such drills in the South China Sea have become a reason of concern itself.

Last year in December, Defense Secretary Lorenzana ordered a review of the 67-year-old treaty. He questioned the relevance in context to serving current national interest. He argued that “Let us look at it dispassionately, without considering about past ties, about future ties — dispassionately,” and then decide on strengthening, maintaining or scraping it.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently met the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and other top officials. MDT remained a focal point of commitment which was clear from Pompeo’s statement.

However, the recent questions raised by Lorenzana pointed out that there have been disappointment as in 1992, when in west of Manila, “the Chinese began their aggressive actions in Mischief Reef — not an armed attack — but it was aggression just the same. The US did not stop it.”

As of now it’s not apparently the 1992 disappointment that is a worrisome factor for the Philippines but the plausible escalation due to military drills executed by the US in the South China Sea that can lead to even a war like situation which is neither an intent nor feasible for the country to be in.

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