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December 11, 2023

U.S. Support for the Philippines in the South China Sea

Outside Scarborough Reef on December 9 and again near Second Thomas Shoal on December 10, People’s Republic of China (PRC) ships employed water cannons and reckless maneuvers, including forcing a collision, causing damage to Philippine vessels undertaking official supply missions to those locations, and jeopardizing the safety of the Filipino crew.  The PRC ships at Scarborough Reef also used acoustic devices, incapacitating the Filipino crew members, and drove away Philippine fishing vessels.  By impeding the safe operations of Philippine vessels carrying provisions to Filipino service members stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, the PRC interfered in lawful Philippine maritime operations and in Philippine vessels’ exercise of high seas freedom of navigation.  Obstructing supply lines to this longstanding outpost and interfering with lawful Philippines maritime operations undermines regional stability.

These actions reflect not only reckless disregard for the safety and livelihoods of Filipinos, but also for international law.  As reflected in an international tribunal’s legally binding decision issued in July 2016, the PRC has no lawful maritime claims to the waters around Second Thomas Shoal, and Filipinos are entitled to traditional fishing rights around Scarborough Reef.  As provided under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, the 2016 arbitral decision is final and legally binding on the PRC and the Philippines, and the United States calls upon the PRC to abide by the ruling and desist from its dangerous and destabilizing conduct.

The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of these dangerous and unlawful actions. We reaffirm that Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea