South China Sea
U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters


  • Defense Sec. Austin reiterated the U.S.'s commitment to supporting Philippines' rights
  • Austin vowed that the U.S. would honor its Mutual Defense Treaty obligations
  • Austin and Philippine Defense OIC Galvez discussed enhancing military ties

The defense chiefs of the U.S. and the Philippines discussed the "concerning developments" in the South China Sea, as the Southeast Asian country warned that Chinese aggression in the region has become a "daily occurrence."

In a statement from the Pentagon, Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin III spoke with Philippine Defense Officer-in-Charge and Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez about the laser-point incident between the Chinese and Philippine naval vessels.

"Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Philippine Officer in Charge of the Department of National Defense Carlito Galvez today to discuss concerning developments in the South China Sea, including a recent incident in which the People's Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard directed a military-grade laser at the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard vessel lawfully operating around Second Thomas Shoal," according to the Pentagon.

Austin said he reiterated with Galvez the U.S. commitment to support the Philippines' rights in the part of the South China Sea, which is locally called the West Philippine Sea.

"Secretary Austin underscored the United States' commitment to supporting the lawful rights and operations of the Philippines in the South China Sea," the Pentagon said.

The defense official also vowed that the U.S. would honor its commitment to defend the Philippines from an armed attack through the Article IV of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

The Pentagon said Austin and Galvez also discussed plans to enhance the U.S.-Philippine military ties, including resuming combined maritime activities in the South China Sea.

The dialogue between the U.S. and Philippines' defense leaders came after Philippine Foreign Affairs Sec. Enrique Manalo revealed at the Munich Security Conference that his country is being "deprived" of using its exclusive economic zone due to the increasing number of Chinese harassment in the region.

Manalo said the Chinese harassment became "more or less the daily situation that we face."

The Philippines' top diplomat urged the international community to support the Philippines and other South China Sea claimants in asserting their rights against Chinese aggression.

Earlier this month, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel allegedly pointed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel en route to Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin, during its resupply mission.

The laser-pointing incident caused temporary blindness to the Filipino naval crew.

The Philippines condemned China and accused them of disregarding their sovereign rights in the area.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to express his "serious concern" over China's action.

The incident happened after the Philippines gave the U.S. military additional access to its key military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in a bid to create a chain of countries that would keep China's actions in the region in check.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the Philippines