“President Trump stands with President Duterte as we fight Daesh here in Southeast Asia,” O’Brien said. “This transfer underscores our strong and enduring commitment to our essential alliance.”
O’Brien said the United States is supporting the Philippines in their quest to protect their sovereignty in the South China Sea, The Associated Press reports. Last month, the country announced plans to restart oil and gas exploration around Reed Bank, an area off the country’s west coast that is also claimed by China.
O’Brien said of the dispute: “They belong to the Filipino people. They do not belong to any other country that just because they may be bigger than the Philippines can come and take and convert the resources of the Filipino people. This is simply not true.
He added, “Any armed attack on Philippine forces aircraft or state ships in the South China Sea will trigger our mutual defense obligations,” echoing similar statements by the Secretary of State. Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo Says Middle East Strategy Will Be Trump Administration’s Policy “Until Our Time Is Complete” Trump Administration Withdraw From Open Skies Treaty With Russia Tibetan Political Leader visits the White House for the first time in six decades MORE earlier this year.
As the PA notes, Pompeo escalated tensions with Beijing earlier this year when he said Washington viewed all of China’s contested maritime claims as illegitimate. China in turn accused the United States of sowing discord between it and its neighboring Asian nations.
In October, the State Department announced further diplomatic actions in Asia, including the appointment of a special coordinator in Tibet and the opening of its first embassy in the Maldives. The small nation of the archipelago is struggling to repay loans from Beijing taken out during a previous administration.
Critics of the loans have expressed concern that the difficulty in repaying them could result in “debt trap diplomacy” with China in which the Maldives offers territorial security concessions to China to alleviate debt. The United States’ decision to strengthen diplomatic ties with the Maldives was seen by many as a move to establish its growing presence in the region against China.