US VP Harris visits Philippine island Palawan
Agencies | Washington
The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com
On Tuesday, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited a Philippine island to show support for the long-time US ally.
Harris is the highest-ranking US official ever to visit the western island of Palawan, the closest Philippine landmass to the Spratly archipelago.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of it.
Harris will meet with fisherfolk and members of the Philippine Coast Guard.
She will also deliver remarks that "underscore the importance of international law, unimpeded lawful commerce, and freedom of navigation", a US official told reporters before the visit.
Harris's trip to Palawan comes a day after she held talks with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in Manila.
She reaffirmed the United States' "unwavering" commitment to defending the Philippines if its vessels or aircraft were attacked in the South China Sea.
Washington has a decades-old security alliance with the Philippines that includes a mutual defence treaty and a 2014 pact — known by the acronym EDCA — which allows for the US military to store defence equipment and supplies on five Philippine bases.
It also allows US troops to rotate through those military bases.
The EDCA stalled under former president Rodrigo Duterte, but the United States and the Philippines have expressed support for accelerating its implementation in recent times.
Washington is seeking to repair ties with Manila, whose cooperation would be critical in the event of a conflict.
Relations between the two countries fractured under the mercurial Duterte. Marcos has sought to strike more of a balance between his superpower neighbours.
Harris's visit conveyed a "stronger sense of commitment" to the Philippines' position on maritime claims, but also underscored the need for the EDCA's continued implementation, said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines's Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
"The US cannot adequately carry out its obligations if it is forced to stay several thousand kilometres away in Japan or Guam," he said.
"The Philippines has the right to receive any foreign visitor. What we want to emphasise is that any bilateral exchanges should not be at the expense of the interests of any third country as well as regional peace and stability," it said in an editorial.