US hands-off policy on South China Sea dispute

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim recently issued a statement, saying that America will defend the Philippines should a foreign force attack any of the country’s territories.

“Our commitment set in the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) is absolute that we will defend the Philippines,” said Kim during the Ambassador Series forum organized by Asia Society Philippines.

The US ambassador is referring to the treaty between the Philippines and US that was signed in 1951, which provides for the US to come to the assistance of the Philippines if its metropolitan territory or island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific area would be attacked.

Kim made the statement, however, with a caveat, which is that their hands-off policy on the Philippine-China territorial dispute is irrefutable.

What this means is that while the US is monitoring closely developments in the South China Sea amid the continuing militarization efforts by China on its man-made islands in the area, what concerns most the US is that the freedom of navigation in this part of the world goes must remain unhampered and undisturbed.

Not only that.

The US military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies. This is what is described as free nautical movement.

“…What we do is freedom of navigation and overflight to the freedoms of assembly and expression online. These are the things that we will enforce and so we fly, sail, and operate wherever international law permits.”

This statement was issued by Brian Hook, a senior adviser to the US Secretary of State on Asia Policy.

Hook described China’s militarization of the South China Sea as “provocative” and reiterated US commitment to uphold international law.

“We very strongly believe that China’s rise cannot come at the expense of the values and rules-based order… When China’s behavior is out of step with these values and these rules, we will stand up and defend the rule of law,” he said.

It will be noted that the Philippines has raised its claims on the South China Sea to the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration and was favored by the international court in 2016. China, however, has refused to recognize the ruling.

Be that as it may, the US policy on free nautical movement is consolation enough that somehow claimant nations in the territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea that are allies of the US are protected.

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