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The United States will provide $7.5 million to boost the Philippines’ capabilities to combat illegal fishing in the South China Sea, Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to supporting its ally.
The funding will help the Philippines increase its capacity and capability to counter illegal fishing, improve maritime domain awareness, and provide search and rescue efforts, including in the South China Sea, according to a fact sheet issued by the White House.
Harris made the announcement during her visit to Palawan, a remote Philippine-controlled island in the South China Sea. She became the highest-ranking U.S. official ever to visit the island.
“The United States and the broader international community have a profound stake in the future of this region. America’s prosperity relies on the billions of dollars that flow through these waters every day,” Harris said in a speech.
“As an ally, the United States stands with the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea,” she said aboard the Philippine Coast Guard ship.
Harris reaffirmed the United States’ support for the Philippines in its South China Sea claims, citing a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that firmly rejected China’s expansive maritime claims.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea based on its so-called “nine-dash line,” despite competing claims by other nations. Beijing rejected the tribunal’s decision and continued to make incursions.
“We will continue to rally our rallies and partners against unlawful and irresponsible behavior. When the international rules-based order is threatened somewhere, it is threatened everywhere,” Harris said.
The United States Agency for International Development will also launch a new partnership with local stakeholders in the western Philippines to support livelihoods and sustainable fishing practices, strengthen food security, and advance the conservation of marine ecosystems in the South China Sea.
US Defense Commitment
Prior to her visit to Palawan, Harris met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila and reaffirmed the United States’ “unwavering commitment” to defending the Philippines in the South China Sea.
“An armed attack on the Philippines Armed Forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments,” she said, according to the White House.
Marcos Jr. stated that the U.S.–Philippines alliance has become even more important in light of what he called “upheavals” in the region, and that he does “not see a future for the Philippines that does not include the United States.”
The Philippines has filed over 48 protests against China’s sea incursions under the Marcos administration as of September this year. His predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, filed 388 protests over his six-year term as president.
The United States and the Philippines are allies under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which stipulates that the countries would defend each other if attacked.
The United States earlier agreed to allocate $66.5 million for construction projects at three Philippine military bases, as part of their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows U.S. troops to construct facilities on five Philippine military bases.