U.S. TO PROTECT PHILIPPINES IN WEST PHILIPPINE SEA

Agence France-Presse on May 9, 2012, reported that the Philippines said the United States had pledged to protect it from attacks in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a day after China issued a warning over a territorial row in the waters. Excerpts below:

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he had received the assurances during talks in Washington last week in which the Philippines’ increasingly tense dispute with China over rival claims to a shoal in the sea were discussed.

Gazmin said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stressed they were not taking sides in the dispute, but they assured the Philippines the United States would honor a 1951 mutual defense treaty.

“It includes armed attack… (on) island territories in the Pacific (region),” Gazmin said, citing conditions for the allies coming to each other’s aid.

China and the Philippines have had vessels stationed at Scarborough Shoal for more than a month in an effort to assert their sovereignty over the area.

China claims virtually all of the West Philippine Sea as its own, even waters close to the coasts of other Asian countries.

The Philippines insists it has sovereignty over the shoal because it falls within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

The shoal sits about 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and 1,200 kilometers northwest from the nearest major Chinese land mass, according to Filipino navy maps.

Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia also claim parts of the South China, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas resources, making the area one of Asia’s potential military flashpoints.

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