Antony Blinken Warns U.S. Will Come to Philippines' Aid If China Attacks Aircraft, Ships

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. will come to the Philippines' aid if China attacks its aircrafts or ships, the Associated Press reported.

Blinken said Sunday that such an attack "would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments," referring to a 1951 treaty with the Philippines that obliges both nations to come to the other's defense in the instance of an attack. The statement came on the anniversary of a 2016 international tribunal ruling in support of the Philippines that rejects China's maritime territorial claims outside of its internationally recognized waters.

"Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea," Blinken said in the statement. "The People's Republic of China (PRC) continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway."

China denounced the international tribunal ruling on Monday, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian calling it a "political farce," AP reported. Zhao said China's territorial claims have "sufficient historical and legal basis."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. will come to the Philippines' aid if China attacks its aircrafts or ships. Above, Blinken at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on July 1, 2021. Ken Cedeno/AFP via Getty Images

China's military said it chased a U.S. warship out of a disputed area of the South China Sea on Monday.

Beijing affirmed its claims to portions of the sea that also are claimed by Southeast Asia governments. It rejected the Biden administration's declaration of support Sunday for the international tribunal ruling.

China is increasingly assertive about pressing its territorial claims, which are fueling tension with neighbors, including Japan, India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) said it sent ships and planes after the U.S.S. Benfold entered waters claimed by Beijing around the Paracel Islands.

Chinese forces "warned them and drove them away," the military said on its social media account.

The islands are "China's inherent territory," the PLA said. "The actions of the U.S. military have seriously violated China's sovereignty and security."

The U.S. Navy, in a statement by the 7th Fleet Public Affairs office, rejected the Chinese statement as false but gave no details of a possible encounter with PLA forces.

The Benfold carried out the operation "in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in international waters," the statement said.

The Chinese statement was "the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims," the Navy statement said.

"China firmly deplores and rejects the wrongdoings of the United States," Zhao said at a regular news briefing.

A U.S.-based expert said Monday that swarms of Chinese vessels anchored in a disputed area of the South China Sea have dumped human waste and wastewater for years, causing algae blooms that have damaged coral reefs and threatened fish in an unfolding catastrophe.

Satellite images over the last five years show how human waste, sewage and wastewater have accumulated and caused algae in the atoll, internationally known as Union Banks, said Liz Derr, who heads Simularity Inc., a software company creating artificial intelligence technologies for satellite imagery analysis.

At least 236 ships were spotted in the atoll on June 17 alone, she said at a Philippine online news forum on China's actions in the South China Sea.

Chinese officials did not immediately react to Derr's assessment of the environmental damage, but have said in the past that they have taken steps to protect the fisheries stock and the environment in the South China Sea.