US urged to clarify scope of Mutual Defense Treaty in sea dispute

By: Inquirer.net December 09,2018 - 08:53 PM

MANILA, Philippines — The United States should clarify how its Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the Philippines applies to the situation in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

For Gregory Poling, director of the Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, it’s a high time for the US to settle the questions surrounding the scope of the 66-year-old treaty.

The South China Sea expert said “one of the biggest strategic mistakes” of the Obama administration was the failure to sort out how the treaty comes into play when push comes to shove in the disputed waters.

“I would argue that one of the biggest strategic mistakes of the Obama administration was the failure to clarify the Mutual Defense Treaty and how it applies in the South China Sea. That remains a gross mistake the US needs to get done but it was only a political issue then,” Poling said at a security forum in Makati on Friday.

“Today, there’s a concern that if US did offer clarification, it would not be able to back it up. Right now, as of this year, the Chinese have three naval air bases in the Spratly Islands. They are 12 miles from Pagasa (Thitu) and 20 miles from Sierra Madre (Second Thomas Shoal). The closest US air assets are 1,300 miles away in Okinawa,” he added.

The Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims in the South China Sea. But China claims most of the waters with their so-called nine-dash line, and has asserted its claims by building huge, artificial islands with military capabilities.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told INQUIRER.net that a clarification from the US was important, “because it would specify how far they would back us up.”

At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June, US Defense Secretary James Mattis dodged questions on the scope of the MDT.

“We stand by our treaty allies but this is a discussion between the current administrations in the Manila and in Washington DC and it’s not one that can be answered as simply as your question would indicate,” he said in the Q and A after his speech.

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TAGS: clarify, dispute, Mutual defense treaty, scope, sea, urged, US

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