Tuesday, November 19, 2019

US, PH press revision of 68-year old Mutual Defense Treaty

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 19, 2019): US, PH press revision of 68-year old Mutual Defense Treaty

Amid the increased aggression of China in the South China Sea, the United States (US) and Philippines are planning to revise the 68-year-old mutual defense treaty (MDT) to adapt to the ‘changing’ environment and ensure peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, right, talks with his US counterpart Mark Esper, during a press conference at the Philippine Department of National Defense in Quezon city, metropolitan Manila, Philippines Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila / MANILA BULLETIN)

This was one of the topics highlighted during a top-level meeting between US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Tuesday.

“I was actually the one who first put forth the idea of revisiting the MDT because in my opinion, it has been made at the height of the Korean war and the situation then compared to now is different. We are actually in discussion first on what to look out for in my proposal,” Lorenzana said.

The country’s Defense chief said the talks will be further discussed in one of the meetings between the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) sometime this year.

“That has to be taken up [MDT revision]. I don’t know what will be the outcome, it will be a joint cooperative endeavor,” Lorenzana noted.

The MDT was signed in 1951 between the US and Philippines, with the overall accord saying both countries shall support each other if either were to be attacked by another country.

The proposal to revise the MDT comes amid mounting criticisms on the ambiguity of some of its provisions, one of which is the definition of the term “metropolitan Philippines.”

In the MDT, it was stated that an attack on the metropolitan Philippines will trigger the MDT, but it was not clearly defined what part of the Philippines it covers.

Lorenzana earlier proposed that the term includes territories that are being claimed by the Philippines in the disputed West Philippine Sea. The proposal to revise the MDT was announced in 2018.

For his part, Esper cited the overwhelming reaction of most participants in the ASEAN Defence Minister’s Meeting (ADMM) held in Bangkok, Thailand recently where they expressed concern on China’s “excessive claims” in the region.

“The Secretary [Lorenzana] and I came back from Bangkok where we have a very important meeting of the ADMM plus members if you will, and the general theme that I took from our formal plenary discussion is that most participants in that room are very concerned about China’s excessive claims in the region,” Esper said.

“There are lack of compliance with international laws and norms, and they are concerned about the course of tactics used by Beijing throughout the region to advance their interests,” he added.

The US Defense Secretary pointed out that affected countries should take a “very public posture” to assert its sovereign rights and emphasize the importance of international law in the region.

“The signal that we are trying to send is that we all stand with intl laws and I think China should abide by them as well that acting collectively is the best way to send that message,” Esper said.

Aside from that, Lorenzana and Esper also emphasized the importance of the Philippines and US’ strengthened partnership.

Both secretaries discussed proposals to support US’ efforts to help modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines, improve maritime security capabilities and domain awareness, and provide rapid humanitarian assistance.

Both secretaries also reaffirmed commitment to counter-terrorism and violent extremism.

Esper’s visit in the country forms part of his voyage to select countries in the Indo-Pacific region, starting last November 13.

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