Blinken Warns China Against Armed Attack on Philippines

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken warned China on Tuesday that an “armed” attack against Philippine vessels in the South China Sea would trigger a mutual self-defense pact between Washington and Manila, a reflection of rising tensions in the region that risk dragging the United States into armed conflict with Beijing.

But in a sign that the United States hopes to de-escalate the situation, Mr. Blinken, on a visit to Manila, gave no indication that recent Chinese provocations — which include ramming Philippine vessels and blasting them with water cannons — crossed the threshold of “armed” attacks.

Pressed during a news conference alongside his Philippine counterpart on how to deter what some analysts call China’s “gray-zone coercion tactics,” which Philippine officials say include aiming a high-powered laser at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel and temporarily blinding some crew members, Mr. Blinken pointed to diplomatic, not military, measures.

“The very visibility of those actions, I think, has provoked from a number of other countries clear statements in support of the Philippines and against these provocative actions that are a threat to peace, security, freedom of navigation and basic rights under international law,” he said.

Mr. Blinken appeared to be attempting to strike a balance at a moment when the Biden administration is trying to sustain a recent thaw in relations with Beijing while also standing firm against Chinese territorial aggression in the region.

He was also signaling robust American support for the Philippines at a high-water moment for recent relations between the countries. Mr. Blinken met later in the day with the Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has pivoted his country’s foreign policy back toward Washington since succeeding Rodrigo Duterte, who openly derided the United States and embraced Beijing.

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