Defense officials remain in close consultation with counterparts from the Philippines following the latest unsafe operational behavior by Chinese military vessels against Philippine vessels operating lawfully in the South China Sea over the weekend, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said today.
Ryder underscored the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to upholding its obligations under its mutual defense treaty with the Philippines and urged “all nations to work together in the region to ensure that ships and aircraft can sail wherever international law allows.”
“We’re going to continue to consult very closely with our Philippine allies and our partners in the region,” he told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.
Chinese vessels carried out unsafe maneuvers against Philippine vessels operating outside the Scarborough Reef on Saturday and again near the Second Thomas Shoal on Sunday.
During the encounters, the Chinese vessels employed water cannons and forced a collision which caused damage to Philippine vessels undertaking official supply missions.
Chinese military ships operating near the Scarborough Reef also used acoustic devices to incapacitate Filipino crew members.
“By impeding the safe operations of Philippine vessels carrying provisions to Filipino service members stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, the PRC interfered in lawful Philippine maritime operations and in Philippine vessels’ exercise of high seas freedom of navigation,” State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement on Sunday. “Obstructing supply lines to this longstanding outpost and interfering with lawful Philippines maritime operations undermines regional stability.”
The latest maneuvers are a continuation of the Chinese military’s increasingly provocative and risky behavior in the region.
Defense officials have also noted a steep rise in risky and aggressive intercepts by China’s military of U.S. aircraft operating in international airspace in accordance with international law.
According to the most recent China Military Power Report, the U.S. has documented more than 180 coercive and risky air intercepts against U.S. aircraft in the region between 2021 and 2023.
That is more risky intercepts in the past two years than in the past decade, according to the report.
“It’s just hugely irresponsible and unsafe when you’re putting seamen at risk at sea, operating in international waters and completely within their rights,” Ryder said of China’s behavior over the weekend.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met last month with Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus in Jakarta, Indonesia.
During their discussion, the secretaries applauded the “historic momentum” in the alliance, “which has upheld peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region for over seventy years,” according to a joint summary of the meeting.
The secretaries also discussed recent provocations by China during the meeting.
“Secretary Austin reiterated President Biden’s message that the U.S. defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad and emphasized that the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone,” according to the meeting summary.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., spoke with Philippines Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Gen. Romeo Brawner, Jr., by phone today following China’s latest provocations against the Philippine vessels.
During the discussion, the two leaders discussed the regional security environment as well as the two countries’ mutual strategic security interests and opportunities for increased military cooperation, according to a summary of the phone call.
The two leaders also agreed to remain in close consultation, according to the summary.