Defense relationship part of US-Iraq talks in Washington next week, US official says

Biden assures ‘ironclad’ US defense support for the Philippines and Japan amid growing China provocations

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden said Thursday that US defense commitment to Pacific allies was “ironclad” as he gathered Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House in the midst of growing concern about provocative Chinese military action in the Indo-Pacific.
The US and the Philippines have had a mutual treaty in place for more than 70 years. Biden’s forceful reinforcement of the American commitment comes in the midst of persistent skirmishes between the Philippine and Chinese coast guards in the disputed South China Sea.
“The United States defense commitments to Japan and to the Philippines are ironclad. They’re ironclad,” Biden said as he began three-way talks at the White House with Kishida and Marcos. “As I said before, any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke our mutual defense treaty.”
Relations between China and the Philippines have been repeatedly tested by confrontations involving the two nations’ coast guard vessels in the disputed South China Sea. Chinese coast guard ships also regularly approach disputed Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands near Taiwan.

In this frame grab from aerial video footage taken on March 5, 2024 and released by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Chinese Coast Guard ships (L and R) deploy water cannons at the Philippine military-chartered civilian boat Unaizah May 4 (C) during its supply mission near Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea. (AFP/File)

The so-called “gray-zone” harassment by China has included shining military-grade lasers at the Philippine Coast Guard, firing water cannons at vessels and ramming into Philippine ships near the Second Thomas Shoal, which both Manila and Beijing claim. In 1999, Manila intentionally ran a World War II–era ship aground on the shoal, establishing a permanent military presence there.
Biden, in a wide-ranging phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, raised concerns about China’s operations in the South China Sea, including efforts to impede the Philippines from resupplying its forces on the Second Thomas Shoal.
Chinese officials have bristled at criticism over their action in the South China Sea and blamed the US for exacerbating tensions.
“No one should violate China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and China remains steadfast in safeguarding our lawful rights,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Thursday.
The White House billed the first-ever trilateral summit with Japan and the Philippines as a potent response to China’s attempts at “intimidation” and said it sould send a message that China is “the outlier in the neighborhood,” according to an administration official. The White House said in a statement that Biden and Marcos during the talks “underscored their commitment to international law in the South China Sea” and reaffirmed their countries’ treaty obligations to defend each other.
The leaders also announced joint patrols in the Indo-Pacific this year, a follow-up on law enforcement drills carried out last year by the allies in waters near the South China Sea. The US Coast Guard will also welcome Philippine and Japanese coast guard members onto a US Coast Guard vessel during the patrol for training, according to senior Biden administration officials who insisted on anonymity to preview the talks.
The summit followed Biden’s one-on-one talks and glitzy state dinner Wednesday at the White House for the Japanese premier, a diplomatic honor meant to recognize Tokyo’s growing clout on the global stage. White House officials said they were aiming to send a clear signal that the Democratic administration remains determined to build what it calls a “latticework” of alliances in the Indo-Pacific even as it grapples with the Israel-Hamas war and Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Biden also hosted Marcos for a private meeting at the White House ahead of the three-way talks.
“Today’s summit is an opportunity to define the future that we want, and how we intend to achieve it together,” Marcos said.
Biden also announced that the three nations were launching a a new economic corridor in the Philippines as part of the G7 Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment that would help develop clean energy, port, agriculture and other projects in the country. Biden said the leaders were forging a “new era” and predicted “a great deal of history in our world will be written in the Indo-Pacific in the coming years.”
The United States, the United Kingdom and Japan on Wednesday announced joint military exercises in the Indo-Pacific in 2025. That followed the Pentagon revealing earlier this week that the US, the UK and Australia were considering including Japan in the AUKUS partnership, a grouping launched in 2021 that aims to equip Australia with nuclear-powered and conventionally armed submarines.
Kishida visited Capitol Hill on Thursday for an address to US lawmakers that focused on the need to strengthen the partnership between the US and Japan at a time of tension in the Asia-Pacific and skepticism in Congress about US involvement abroad. He offered concern about “the undercurrent of self-doubt among some Americans about what your role in the world should be.”
Biden has made improving relations with the Philippines a priority since Marcos became the country’s president in June 2022. The relationship has had ups and downs over the years and was in a difficult place when Marcos took office. Human rights groups said Marcos’ predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings.
Marcos, the son and namesake of the country’s former dictator, said as a candidate he would look to pursue closer ties with China. But he has increasingly drifted toward Washington amid concerns about China’s coercive action.
Biden hosted him for talks at the White House last year, the first Washington visit by a Philippine president in more than a decade. Biden also met him on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly soon after Marcos took office, and dispatched Vice President Kamala Harris to Manila in 2022 to meet him.
Last year, the Philippines agreed to give the US access to four more bases on the islands.