In this February 28, 2019 photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in a joint press availability with Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. at the DFA headquarters in Pasay City. | Photo by Ron Przysucha/U.S. Department of State

THE United States’ policy shift on maritime disputes in the South China Sea was recently discussed by the top diplomats of Manila and Washington during a phone call.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also talked about the “U.S. support for Southeast Asian coastal states upholding their sovereign rights and interests consistent with international law, and opportunities for further U.S.-Philippine maritime cooperation,” according to the U.S. Department of State.

“The two secretaries also discussed the strong economic, security, and people-to-people ties that bind our two countries,” it added on a press readout released Friday, August 7.

Pompeo, for his part, said the telephone conversation with Locsin was good as they got to discuss their shared interests in the South China Sea.

“The U.S.-Philippine Alliance is vital to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he added.

Earlier, Pompeo noted that “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” he said on July 14.

“America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law,” Pompeo added.

Beijing, in response, accused Pompeo of “distorting” facts and international law.

“Under the pretext of preserving stability, it is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region. Under the pretext of endorsing rules, it is using UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) to attack China while refusing to ratify the Convention itself,” the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, announced that Manila will not be joining any naval drills in the South China Sea except within its national waters.

“President Rodrigo Duterte has a standing order to us, to me, that we should not involve ourselves in naval exercises in the South China Sea except our national waters, the 12 mile distance from our shores,” he said on August 3.

Locsin, for his part, told Beijing not to read “too much into it.”

“We’re sitting out this one, we don’t know if we will the next one. Okay?” he said in a tweet.

He also said that Manila’s position on the maritime dispute remains “consistent and clear.”
“What is ours is ours under the Arbitral Award and no one else can tell us different,” said Locsin.

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