CBS-ABN News: by RG Cruz —
MANILA (UPDATE) – US President Barack Obama steered clear of China on Monday night as he said that the United States’ commitment to defend the Philippines is iron-clad.
This, after the US leader failed to categorically say during an earlier joint press conference with President Benigno Aquino whether the US would defend the Philippines from China.
“Through our treaty alliance, the United States has an ironclad commitment to defend you, your security and your independence,” Obama said during his toast during the state dinner prepared for him at the Palace.
During his earlier joint press briefing with Aquino, Obama did not give a firm commitment to defend the Philippines if China attacks it over maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
Obama was asked twice if he will give the same commitment that he gave to Japan last week.
Japan, like the Philippines, is a treaty ally of the US, and both have maritime disputes with China.
Japan has the Senkaku Islands while the Philippines is in a tug of war over islands, shoals, and atolls in the West Philippine Sea.
“We welcome China’s peaceful rise. We have a constructive relationship with China. There is enormous trade; enormous business that is done between the United States and China; So our goal is not to counter China; our goal is not to contain China,” Obama said.
He added that the US does not take a specific position on the disputes between nations.
“But, as a matter of international law and international norms, we don’t think that coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes. And for that reason, we’re very supportive of President Benigno’s approach to go before the tribunal for the law of the sea, and to seek international arbitration that can resolve this in a diplomatic fashion,” Obama said.
“My hope is that, at some point, we’re going to be able to work cooperatively with China as well,” he added.
China has rejected joining the arbitration case the Philippines filed before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
When asked if the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines will apply in case of war with China, Obama was also evasive.