Manila: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday assured Philippine officials that Washington was determined to de-escalate tensions in the Taiwan Strait to keep the region safe and ensure unimpeded access to the major waterway.
In a one-day visit to Manila, Blinken met Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo, and other government officials report DPA news agency.
He was also dropped by a vaccination site against COVID-19.
The visit comes amid China’s ongoing live-fire military drills in response to US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which have triggered security concerns around the world.
“We always stand by our partners,” Blinken told reporters after his meetings with Marcos Jr and Manalo. “It’s important to underscore that because of what’s happening north of here, in the Taiwan Strait.”
“Since China launched nearly a dozen ballistic missiles toward Taiwan two days ago, we’ve been hearing from allies and partners across the region who are deeply concerned about the destabilizing and dangerous actions,” he said.
Blinken stressed that Washington will keep the lines of communication open with Beijing, to avoid any miscommunication and misunderstanding, while working with regional organisations and allies to ensure cross-strait peace and stability.
“Our allies and partners across the region have told us in no uncertain terms, that they are looking for responsible leadership right now,” he said.
“So let me be clear, the US doesn’t believe that it’s in the interest of Taiwan, the region or our own national security to escalate the situation.”
He urged Beijing to “focus on … the fact that for 40 years plus, we’ve managed this problem, this challenge well and we’ve done it in a way that’s avoided any conflict”.
“I think that’s the expectations that countries … around the region and around the world have,” he added. “They certainly expect us, the US and China, to manage our differences responsibly and that’s what we’re determined to do.”
In his meeting with Marcos Jr, Blinken stressed Washington’s commitment to the two countries’ joint defence agreement and told the president that the US was looking forward to working his administration to “deepen” the alliance with the Philippines.
“Our relationship is quite extraordinary because it is really founded in friendship,” he said. “It’s forged as well in partnership and it’s strengthened by the fact that it’s an alliance as well.”
“The alliance is strong and I believe, we will all (be) stronger. We’re committed to the mutual defence treaty. We’re committed to working with you on shared challenges,” he added.
Marcos Jr said recent regional and global tensions highlighted the importance of the relationship between Manila and Washington.
“I hope that we will continue to evolve that relationship in the face of all the changes that we have been seeing and the changes between bilateral relations between us and the US,” he said.
Marcos Jr said he saw the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty, which commits the US and the Philippines to come to each other’s aid in the event of foreign aggression, to be “in constant evolution”.
“We can no longer isolate one part of our relationship from the other,” he added.
“We are too closely tied because of the special relationship between the USand the Philippines and the history we share.”