China Asks Philippines Not to Revise Mutual Defense Treaty With U.S.

China asked the Philippines to not revise its mutual defense treaty with the United States, the Philippine defense chief said Thursday, as a possible revision could threaten China's security interests.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said U.S. and Philippine military officials held initial talks to assess the 70-year Mutual Defense Treaty, which could be abrogated, replaced or revised.

However, Lorenzana said he was approached by a Chinese ambassador who asked for the treaty to not be revised in any way.

"While the U.S. welcomes the idea of revisiting the MDT, an outside party does not. When I first broached the idea of revisiting the MDT, the former Chinese ambassador came to me and said, 'Please do not touch the MDT, leave it as it is,'" Lorenzana said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Philippine Flag U.S.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said U.S. and Philippine military officials have held initial talks discussing the future of the countries' mutual defense treaty. An honor guard holds a flag of the Philippines during an enhanced honor cordon at the Pentagon September 10, in Arlington, Virginia. Alex Wong/Getty Images

The 1951 treaty commits the United States and the Philippines to come to the aid of the other in case of an attack. American officials have repeatedly assured their Philippine counterparts that they would honor their treaty obligations if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under attack in the disputed South China Sea, including by China.

The treaty alliance is America's oldest in Asia.

"Initial discussions have been made between officials of both militaries to achieve some consensus on how to move forward," Lorenzana said in videotaped remarks at an online forum that discussed issues surrounding the treaty.

A Philippine diplomat has told the Associated Press that China may be concerned Philippine and U.S. officials might insert provisions that could threaten Beijing's security interests if the treaty were amended. They could recognize, for example, a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated China's vast territorial claims in the South China Sea on historical grounds, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak in public.

China and the Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have been locked in a tense standoff over territorial disputes in the busy waterway. There are fears that the long-simmering disputes could spark a war that could ruin the bustling economies in Asia and beyond.

Lorenzana said there have been suggestions to revise the treaty to address current regional security concerns, including China's use of civilian militias instead of military forces to seize territories in the disputed waters to avoid a military dispute that can give the U.S. and the Philippines a reason to activate their treaty.

Chinese Embassy officials did not immediately react to Lorenzana's remarks. China has warned the U.S. not to intervene in what it says is a purely Asian dispute that governments in the region are trying to resolve peacefully through negotiations.

Washington lays no claims in the disputed waters but has declared that the peaceful resolution of the disputes, along with freedom of navigation and overflight in the contested waterway, were in its national interest.

U.S. Philippines Relations
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the U.S. and Philippines are open to revising their mutual defense treaty, but China has asked the Philippines to leave it alone. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, meets with Philippines Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin on September 9, at the State Department in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin, Pool/AP Photo