A senior administration official announced on November 15 that US Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the Philippine islands of Palawan at the edge of the disputed South China Sea, a move that could be viewed as a reprimand by Beijing.
Harris will be the highest-ranking American official to visit the island series adjacent to the Spratly Islands when he visits on November 22. China has dug the seabed in order to construct harbors and airstrips on the Spratly Islands, portions of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Beijing asserts territorial claims in the waters off Palawan and the majority of the South China Sea, citing historical charts from China. However, a 2016 international arbitration judgement ruled that the Chinese claims had no legal substance, granting Manila a victory that has yet to be implemented.
A few days after a three-hour face-to-face meeting between US Vice President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which was designed to alleviate tensions, Beijing may be frustrated by this travel.
The South China Sea, which includes vast oil and gas reserves, is the site of $5 trillion in ship-borne trade annually and a hotspot for naval tensions between China and the United States.
On Palawan, Harris is planned to meet with “people, civil society leaders, and Philippine Coast Guard members,” according to a senior government official.
This trip will demonstrate the administration’s “commitment to stand with our Philippine ally in upholding the rules-based international maritime order in the South China Sea, supporting maritime livelihoods, and combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing,” according to a senior administration official.
The Philippines is a security ally of the United States, but former President Rodrigo Duterte refrained from criticizing Beijing out of a desire to attract Chinese investment.
In accordance with a 2014 cooperative security agreement, Manila announced earlier on Tuesday that the United States would spend $66.5 million to begin construction of training and storage facilities at three of its military sites in the country.
Harris’ second journey to Asia in three months followed Biden’s one-week visit to the region. The purpose of both travels was to strengthen defenses and alliances to deter China from taking aggressive actions, notably in self-governing Taiwan. The Harris trip also includes a stop in Thailand for a summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders.
During her most recent tour to the region, Harris accused China of “coercion and intimidation” against its neighbors.
Gregory Poling, a specialist on the South China Sea, stated that the visit might send a strong message to the Philippines without angering Beijing because it does not include a contested territory.
“It will reassure the Philippines by sending a clear signal that, even with Ukraine and Taiwan in the spotlight, the United States recognizes the South China Sea as central to the future of the U.S.-Philippine alliance,” said Poling, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Poling anticipated that Harris would also visit a facility being constructed in accordance with the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement at the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, which houses the Philippine military command responsible for defending and patrolling the Spratly Islands.