BLINKEN ASSURES MARCOS ON MUTUAL DEFENSE TREATY; As Beijing-Taipei tensions rise with military drills, OFWs brace for worst

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA/TAIPEI – Amid the China war drills near Taiwan, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken  concluded his two-day visit to Manila, leaving with a reassurance to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of US assistance and commitment to the Philippines under the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty.

During his call on Mr. Marcos in Malacanang, Blinken assured Marcos that the world’s largest economy and military power is committed to keeping its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines.

“The alliance is strong … We’re committed to the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Blinken said.

“We’re committed to working with you on shared challenges but I think what is so striking to me is we are working together on bilateral issues between us, we are working together in the region, and increasingly, we are working globally because so many of the challenges we face are a global issue,” Blinken said.

“We’re committed to the Mutual Defense Treaty. We’re committed to working with you on shared challenges,” Blinken said. “What’s so striking to me, Mr. President, is that (we’re) working together on bilateral relations between us, we’re working together in the region, and increasingly, we’re working globally.”

Blinken described the US commitment to the MDT as “ironclad,” adding that “an armed attack on Philippine Armed Forces public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke the US Mutual Defense commitments under that treaty.”

Aside from securing the Philippines’ maritime domain, he said the US will continue to partner with Filipino fishermen and scientists to preserve its maritime resources, which he said are under threat from illegal fishing.

For his part, Marcos told Blinken the 70-year-old joint defense pact is in “constant evolution.”

“The Mutual Defense Treaty is in constant evolution. I’d like to think of it,” Marcos said. “As I spoke with your Ambassador sometime when she came, is that we cannot, we can no longer isolate one part of our relationship from the other. We are too closely tied because of the special relationship between the US and the Philippines, and the history that we share.”

Marcos also recognized the assistance and support the Philippines has received from the US over the years, noting that it could no longer be “categorized as one thing or another because they cover such a large scope.”

In a statement after the meeting, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said apart from defense and security cooperation, the President and Blinken also talked about other issues that include renewable energy, climate change mitigation, agriculture, food security, and the coronavirus disease 2019.

Cruz-Angeles said Blinken also hailed Filipino nurses in the US, calling them “angels who are caring in so many ways.”

Among those present in the meeting were US Ambassador MaryKay Loss Carlson, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink, Director of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff Salman Ahmed, Spokesperson Ned Price, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Thomas Sullivan, and Political Counselor Brett Blackshaw.

This developed as Filipino workers in Taiwan were reported to increasingly concerned amid the heightening tensions between Beijing and Taipei even as their employers were reportedly bracing for the worst-case scenario.

Philippine representative to Taiwan, former Labor Secretary Bello, meanwhile, prepared to fly to Taipeh to act on the concerns of the Filipinos there, although he downplayed the tensions between China and Taiwan, claiming that Taiwan has long been prepared for any armed conflict between Beijing and Taipeh.

Mercedita Kuan, secretary general of Filcom Taiwan Northern, said although the situation is now “normal,” she said many Filipinos’s fears still lingers.

China had kicked off its largest-ever set of military exercises encircling Taiwan after a visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The visit has become a major irritant to China.

Taiwan’s 23 million people have long lived with the possibility of an invasion, but that threat has intensified under President Xi Jinping.

China considers the self-ruled, democratic island as its territory and has vowed to one day reclaim it, by force if necessary.

Blinken said China “has taken an irresponsible step of a different kind” by launching several ballistic missiles near the Taiwan Strait, a strategic waterway where seaborne goods sail through.

In a meeting with Blinken, President  Marcos said Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan merely demonstrated the intensity of tensions in the region.

“To be perfectly candid, I did not think it raised the intensity, it just demonstrated … How the intensity of that conflict has been,” Marcos told Secretary Blinken during a call in Malacanang.

“We’ve been hearing from allies and partners across the region who are deeply concerned about the destabilizing and dangerous actions,” he said.

“What happens to the Taiwan strait affects the entire region. In many ways, it affects the entire world because the Strait, like the South China Sea, is a critical waterway,” he said.
“The Mutual Defense Treaty is in constant evolution. I’d like to think of it,” Marcos told Secretary Blinken.

“We can no longer isolate one part of our relationship from the other. We are too closely tied because of the special relationship between the United States and the Philippines and the history we share, and all the assistance and help and support that we have received from the US over the years,” Marcos added.

“They can no longer be categorized as one thing or another because they cover such a large scope,” he  added.

Blinken noted that “almost half the global water fleet and nearly 90 percent of the world’s largest ships” pass through the Taiwan Strait as they deliver goods across different trading routes.

In a related development, it would be best for the Philippines to take a neutral stance on the Taiwan Strait crisis, a geopolitics and political analyst said.
Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute vice president for external affairs Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy said the Philippines, “as much as possible,” should not get involved in the brewing tensions in the Taiwan Strait.
“With regard to the Philippines, our own country, I think really the best position for us is to be neutral,” Malindog-Uy said during the Pandesal Forum hosted by Kamuning Bakery Cafe in Quezon City.

Stressing that the Philippines “has no enemies,” Malindog-Uy said the country “should not create one at all costs.”

She also advised the Philippine government to adhere to the “One China” principle that Beijing follows.

“These are affairs of China, these are considered internal affairs of China. We should not meddle in these affairs and we should stick to the One China principle as much as possible because that is one of the foundations of our bilateral relations with China,” she said.

Under the policy, Beijing’s position is that there is only one Chinese government and Taiwan is part of China.

Malindog-Uy said it is better for the Philippines not to take sides in the latest developments in the Taiwan Strait.

“Our relations with each country should be based on our national interests and should be based on what’s good for the country and not for the benefit of other countries at our expense,” Malindog-Uy said. “As a country, we should uphold our national interests and not be dragged into any conflict, not our own making is I guess not part of our national interests.” (