In the wake of various incidents involving Philippine claims and interests in the South China Sea (SCS), that body of water west of the Philippines that separates us from China in the north, Vietnam in the west, and Brunei and Malaysia in the south, some Philippine officials have voiced a need to review the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines.
Last Friday, US Ambassador Sung Kim, in a television interview, reiterated the US commitment to honor the provisions of the treaty which binds the two countries to support each other in case of an armed attack on either of them.
Article IV of the Mutual Defense Treaty of August 30, 1951, provides: “Each party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the parties would be dangerous to its own peace and security and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with established processes.”
Article V adds: “For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the parties is deemed to include 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.”
Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana has proposed a review of the treaty to clear up many provisions that could be open to possible clashing interpretations. For example, it specifically covers island territories under either country’s jurisdiction in the Pacific. Would that include islands in the South China Sea, which appears to be a body of water west of the Philippines, distinct from the Pacific Ocean which lies east of us?
Ambassador Kim in his TV interview, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that the South China Sea is part of the Pacific and therefore, the treaty applies to any armed attack in the SCS. If this is indeed the interpretation of the State Department, it would be best to put it in black and white in a review of the treaty.
The current treaty also refers to “island territories currently under its jurisdiction.” Panatag, 118 miles west of Zambales, is not Philippine territory but within its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. Recto Bank, 85 miles west of Palawan, is also claimed but not established Philippine territory. Are they covered by the treaty?
This is, in fact, the root of our current dispute with China. We have claims on certain islands and so do Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei on other islands, while China claims virtually the entire South China Sea under an old nine-dash-line map. In earlier times, nations settled such claims with war, but in this nuclear age, war is out of the question. The conflicting claims can only be settled by negotiation, hopefully with United Nations aid.
We are thus proceeding cautiously on current issues in the South China Sea. We shall similarly proceed with caution in our talks with the US on amending and implementing our Mutual Defense Treaty. Clearer treaty provisions will help avert future misunderstandings and serve to restrain any rash action by any nation.
Tags: Roni Santiago