Sat, 18 Sep 2021

Washington DC [US], September 11 (ANI): US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with Philippines Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana and reiterated their commitment to supporting the security, stability, and prosperity of a free and open Indo-Pacific, Pentagon informed on Saturday.

Indo-Pacific region is largely viewed as an area comprising the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean, including the South China Sea. China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its efforts to advance into the Indian Ocean are seen to have challenged the established rules-based system.

Amid China's growing assertiveness, the two secretaries affirmed the enduring nature of the US-Philippines alliance, as well as their shared commitment to building an even stronger foundation for future alliance cooperation.

Austin reiterated that the US commitment to Philippine security is ironclad, and that US treaty commitments extend to Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea, Pentagon readout said.

He expressed his appreciation for the Philippine decision to restore the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement, which signals a commitment by both sides to enhance the scale and scope of alliance cooperation.

Both the defence secretaries also discussed the importance of increased military and security cooperation to support Philippine defense modernization efforts and build alliance interoperability.

The Secretaries agreed to undertake a number of new initiatives that will ensure the bilateral alliance is postured to address new and emerging challenges.

"These include: developing a joint vision statement on shared priorities for the next phase of our alliance cooperation; concluding a bilateral maritime framework that advances military activities and cooperation in the maritime space; resuming infrastructure improvement projects at Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement agreed locations in the Philippines; and Re-convening the Bilateral Strategic Dialogue later this year," the readout said.

Last month, the Philippines government had restored the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US military, which shows that Beijing has failed to deliver enough to the Southeast Asian archipelago.

Philippines had scrapped this agreement with the US 18 months back, but China had not delivered enough to sustain a friendship with Manila which pulled back Manila to restore the agreement. (ANI)

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