Puerto Princesa, Philippines: Vice President Kamala Harris urged countries on Tuesday to stand up for territorial integrity and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which has been challenged by China, and said Washington would press an international campaign against “irresponsible behavior” in the disputed waters.
Harris did not cite China by name but was obviously referring to Beijing when she underscored America’s support to treaty ally the Philippines “in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea.”
She spoke aboard a Philippine coast guard patrol ship docked in Puerto Princesa in the western island province of Palawan, which lies at the edge of the disputed waters. The highly symbolic visit was the last leg of a two-day visit that kicked off in Manila on Monday with talks with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“We must stand up for principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, unimpeded lawful commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes,” Harris said.
Citing profound stakes for America and the international community in the region, particularly in the busy South China Sea, she called for a broad effort to fight for unimpeded commerce and freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed waters.
“We will continue to rally our allies and partners against unlawful and irresponsible behavior,” she said. “When the international rules-based order is threatened somewhere, it is threatened everywhere.”
The long-seething territorial conflicts involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei are regarded as an Asian flashpoint and a delicate fault line in the U.S.-China rivalry in the region.
In her talks with Marcos Jr. on Monday, Harris reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to defend the Philippines under a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty which obligates the allies to help defend either side which comes under attack.