By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief
MANILA/TAIPEH – Tension soared to a new high between the United States and China and the Asia Pacific region that includes the Philippines as US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, met President Tsai Ing-wen and addressed its Congress.
Due to the heightened tension, the Philippines put on alert its armed forces as well as diplomats.
“The Philippines is closely monitoring developments in this regard,” Foreign Affairs Spokesperson and Ambassador Tess Daza said in a statement.
The Philippine government also urged the two superpowers to avoid any miscalculation due to the visit.
“It is important for the US and China to ensure continuing communication to avoid any miscalculation and further escalation of tensions. We trust that China and the United States will be responsible actors in the region,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
China, which considers Taiwan as its territory, had warned Pelosi against the visit but the US leader defied the warning and, during his meeting with Taiwan leaders, declared support to “democratic” Taiwan.
“Today the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy,” Ms. Pelosi said during a meeting with the Taiwan president. “America’s determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad.”
Before, during and after Pelosi’s visit, China conducted unprecedented military exercises near and around Taiwan and fired ballistic missiles nearn the Taiwan Strait and over Taiwan, prompting the US to send its nuclear-powered warships on standby in Philippine waters near Taiwan.
Pelosi’s Taiwan visit was reported to be an affront to China President Xi Jinping, who had made unifying Taiwan and China a goal in his administration.
Amid the heightened tension, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Manila and met with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and other officials on various matters in the agenda, including the mutual defense treaty between the US and the Philippines.
Blinken and Marcos re-affirmed the commitment of their countries in the defense pact which was signed in 1951.
China’s launching of ballistic missiles near Taiwan is a cause of concern for countries in the region, Blinken said in a press conference in Manila.
“We’ve been hearing from allies and partners across the region who are deeply concerned about the destabilizing and dangerous actions,” he said in an ABS-CBN report.
Meanwhile, as the Ukraine-Russia war continues amid the rising tension in Asia Pacific, United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres warned that the world faced “a nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War” and was just “one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”
“We have been extraordinarily lucky so far. But luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict,” Guterres said at the start of a conference in New York of countries belonging to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Guterres said the conference was “a chance to strengthen” the treaty and “make it fit for the worrying world around us,” citing Russia’s war in Ukraine and tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the Middle East.
Earlier, Stephen Lovegrove, Britain’s national security adviser, warned the West needs to establish better communication with China and Russia or risk miscalculating its way into a nuclear war.
Blinken will visit Manila on August 5 and 6 to further strengthen Washington’s long-time alliance with the Philippines.
Blinken, in his first trip to the country as US Secretary of State, will meet President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo on Aug. 6, Saturday.
“They are expected to discuss bilateral efforts to strengthen the US-Philippines alliance, through increased cooperation on energy, trade, and investment, advancing shared democratic values, and pandemic recovery,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.
Marcos has a standing invitation from US President Joe Biden to visit Washington.
While in Manila, Secretary Blinken will meet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo to discuss a wide range of issues, focusing on sustaining the positive trajectory of relations between the Philippines and the United States, strengthening the alliance, and broadening cooperation in the economic sphere, in the context of both countries’ efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and other regional and global challenges.
The visit follows that of Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s second-highest official, in June 2022.
This is the first visit of a US Secretary of State to the Philippines in three years after Mike Pompeo in February 2019.
Blinken’s trip takes place a month after China’s top diplomat Wang Yi’s meeting with Marcos and other senior Philippine officials in Manila.
When the Philippines marked the 6th anniversary of its arbitration victory against China on July 16, Blinken reaffirmed America’s commitment to defend the Philippines against any armed attack in the South China Sea and rejected anew China’s massive claim on the resource-rich waters.
The Philippines and the US have a 70-year-old defense accord, called the Mutual Defense Treaty, that binds Washington to defend its Asian ally from aggression.
Although not a party to the disputes, the US maintained that keeping the South China Sea – a major trade route – open and accessible is within its national interest.
China, which considers the sea disputes a purely Asian issue, is opposed to any foreign intervention, particularly from the US.
Before his Philippine visit, Blinken would first participate on August 3-5 in the US-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and the ASEAN Regional Forum.