O’Brien announces delivery of missiles, bombs to Philippines
National security adviser Robert O’Brien on Monday announced that the U.S. government was sending the Philippine military an arsenal of missiles and bombs in an apparent show of support to its ally as it deals with Islamic militants and territory disputes.
At a ceremony in Manila, O’Brien announced the delivery of the weapons on behalf of President Trump. According to Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Trump pledged $18 million worth of missiles when speaking to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a phone conversation in the spring.
“President Trump is standing with President Duterte as we combat ISIS here in Southeast Asia,” said O’Brien. “This transfer underscores our strong and enduring commitment to our critical alliance.”
O’Brien stated that the U.S. stands with the Philippines as it seeks to protect its sovereignty in the South China Sea, The Associated Press reports. Last month, the country announced its plans to restart oil and gas exploration around Reed Bank, an area off of the country’s west coast that is also claimed by China.
O’Brien said of the dispute, “They belong to the Philippine people. They don’t belong to some other country that just because they may be bigger than the Philippines they can come take away and convert the resources of the Philippine people. That’s just wrong.”
He added, “Any armed attack on Philippine forces aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger our mutual defense obligations,” echoing similar statements made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this year.
As the AP notes, Pompeo heightened tensions with Beijing earlier this year when he said Washington considered all disputed maritime claims made by China to be illegitimate. China in turn accused the U.S. of sowing discord between it and its neighboring Asian nations.
In October the State Department announced new diplomatic actions in Asia, including appointing a special coordinator to Tibet and opening its first embassy in the Maldives. The small archipelago nation is struggling to repay loans from Beijing taken out during a previous administration.
Critics of the loans have expressed concern that difficulty in repaying them will result in “debt-trap diplomacy” with China in which the Maldives offers territorial security concessions to China to relieve the debt. The move by the U.S. to strengthen diplomatic ties with the Maldives was seen by many as a maneuver to establish its growing presence in the region against China.