A close ally is terrified the US will drag it into a 'shooting war' with China in the South China Sea

  • The top defence official in the Philippines is urging his government to review a decades-old treaty with the US, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
  • The Philippines fears the it could be dragged into a shooting war between the US and China in the contested South China Sea.
  • The country, a longtime US ally, has expressed concerns about the US commitment to defend the Philippines in the event that armed conflict breaks out in the region.

Fearing the US could drag it into a shooting war with China in the South China Sea, the Philippines is questioning its alliance with the US and pushing for a review of its decades-old defence treaty with Washington.

The nation’s top defence official said on Tuesday that the government should review the mutual defence pact signed nearly seven decades ago, adding that the regional security environment has become “much more complex,” The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

“The Philippines is not in a conflict with anyone and will not be at war with anyone in the future,” Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, adding that the US is much more likely to get involved in a war in the region than the Philippines is.

“The United States, with the increased and frequent passage of its naval vessels in the West Philippine Sea, is more likely to be involved in a shooting war … [and] the Philippines will be automatically involved,” Lorenzana said, referring to the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea.

The US Navy routinely conducts freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, sailing warships past Chinese-occupied features in a challenge to Beijing’s discredited claims. These operations, which have already occurred twice this year, infuriate Beijing and have led to confrontation.

Read more: The Chinese military challenged a US destroyer to a South China Sea showdown

The Philippine defence chief suggested, as his country has before, that the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty needs to be reexamined and in many places clarified.

“I do not believe that ambiguity or vagueness of the Philippine-US Mutual Defence Treaty will serve as a deterrent. In fact, it will cause confusion and chaos during a crisis,” Lorenzana said.

Last Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempted to reassure a nervous US ally, stressing that the US would defend the Philippines in the event of armed conflict, but Manila, the Philippine capital, has its doubts.

Read more: Pompeo just promised a key ally that the US would respond to an attack in the South China Sea

“America said, ‘We will protect you. We will – your backs are covered, I’m sure.’ I said, ‘It’s ok,'” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday, according to the Philippine Star. “But the problem here is… any declaration of war will pass Congress. You know how b—s— America’s Congress is.”

Speaking on Tuesday, Lorenzana called attention to America’s failure to prevent the Chinese seizure and occupation of disputed territories in the South China Sea. “The US did not stop it,” he said.

But the biggest concern remains the possibility that the US could pull the Philippines into a war with China, something the country is determined to avoid.

“It is not the lack of reassurance that worries me,” Lorenzana said. “It is being involved in a war that we do not seek and do not want.” Manila has maintained a conciliatory stance toward China since Duterte took office in 2016, with the president repeatedly remarking that he is not interested in a war with China, as that is a war his country cannot win.

The country, however, continues to press Beijing on Chinese encroachment into areas considered Philippine territory.

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