President Joe Biden reaffirmed the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to the defense of the Philippines in his first bilateral meeting with the country’s new leader, as he seeks to bolster the U.S.–Philippine alliance.
Biden on Thursday met with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Marcos, the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, took office on June 30.
The two leaders discussed the situation in the South China Sea and underscored their support “for freedom of navigation and overflight and peaceful resolution” there, according to a readout issued by the White House.
They also discussed expanding bilateral cooperation in energy security, climate action, and infrastructure. Biden commended the Philippines for condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The relationship between the United States and the Philippines, to state the obvious, has very deep roots. We’ve had some rocky times, but the fact is it’s a critical relationship from our perspective,” he said during a press briefing.
Marcos expressed his intention to strengthen the U.S.–Philippines alliance, noting that his country valued the United States’ role in maintaining peace in the region.
“The 100-plus-year-old relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. continues to evolve as we face the challenges of this new century and the events that we have been watching over the past few months,” Marcos said.
China has increased its influence in the South China Sea through its artificial islands and military buildup. The Chinese communist regime claims the majority of the South China Sea under its so-called “nine-dash line” despite competing claims with other nations.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei have all made their own overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
Marcos had previously vowed to uphold The Hague’s 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute, saying that he will not allow China to encroach on “a single square millimeter of our maritime coastal.”
The Philippines have filed over 48 protests against China’s sea incursions under the Marcos administration. His predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, filed 388 protests over his six-year term as president.
Philippine Defense Undersecretary Angelito de Leon said on Sept. 8 that Chinese vessels continue to swarm Philippine waters despite the protests, prompting the national coast guard to bolster maritime domain awareness and patrols.
The Philippines and United States are allies under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which dictates that the United States and the Philippines will defend each other if either is attacked.
Earlier in July, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China’s communist leadership that Washington was obligated to defend the Philippines if its forces, vessels, or aircraft came under attack in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
“We stand by our ally, the Philippines, in defending its rights and in opposing the PRC’s provocations and intimidation,” Blinken said, using the acronym for China’s formal name, the People’s Republic of China.
Andrew Thornebrooke contributed to this report.