The United States supports the Philippines "completely" to ensure its sovereignty and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
In a recent media roundtable, visiting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said this US commitment is part of its Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the Philippines.
"The Philippines has been a leader and a champion for upholding freedom of navigation in the South China Sea in the face of increasing encroachments," she said.
"The United States remains committed to standing with the government of the Philippines to uphold the rules and laws underpinning the international maritime order, and we have spoken up against infringements of the Philippines’ sovereign rights," she said.
The statement came hours before the Philippine government on Thursday said it protested the return of some 100 illegal Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef.
READ: DFA protests return of 100 Chinese vessels to Julian Felipe
Sherman noted that the existing bilateral maritime dialogue between the US and the Philippines serves as an instrument for the two nations to discuss issues in the South China Sea and "build strategies and work together" to make sure that people's livelihoods are protected.
"There are so many issues in the maritime domain, security is certainly one of them. Unregulated, underreported, illegal fishing is another, the climate is another," she said.
"There are huge numbers of issues and I'm really glad that this maritime dialogue has gotten underway," she added.
During her trip to Manila on Thursday, Sherman met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Among the topics discussed during the meetings were economic recovery efforts, energy, health, the Ukraine war, and human rights.
On human rights, the Philippines reiterated its invitation for the US to support the three-year United Nations Joint Program on Human Rights (2021-2024).
Source: Philippines News Agency