Harris swipes at China in speech from contested waters near Philippines

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks on Philippines Coast Guard ship Teresa Magbanua at Puerto Princesa Port, Philippines, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022 (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Vice President Harris on Tuesday spoke out against unnamed threats to local fishing communities and international norms during a speech from the South China Sea, where China’s expanding claims are fueling tension with Southeast Asian countries and the United States.

“We must stand up for principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, unimpeded lawful commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and the freedom of navigation and overflight,” Harris said aboard a Coast Guard ship in Puerto Princesa, Philippines.

“As an ally, the United States stands with the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea,” she said.

Harris also spoke with local fishing communities about the impact of foreign ships overfishing in the region, warning that the “vitality of communities like this is at risk.”

“Communities like this have seen the consequences, and people here know the impacts, when foreign vessels enter Philippine waters and illegally deplete the fishing stock, when they harass and intimidate local fishers, when they pollute the ocean and destroy the marine ecosystem,” she said.

China, which has the world’s largest deep-water fishing fleet, has been accused of trespassing into the waters of dozens of countries, including the Philippines, and decimating fish stocks.

Harris on Tuesday announced additional funding for Philippine maritime law enforcement to counter overfishing as well as a new partnership with communities in the province of Palawan for sustainable fishing and to conserve ecosystems and strengthen food security.

The U.S. has no claims to the South China Sea but conducts billions of dollars in global annual trade through routes in the contested waters.

Beijing has opposed U.S. Navy and Air Force patrols in the South China Sea and claims complete sovereign rights in the waterway, despite a 2016 international arbitration ruling that found China did not have historical, exclusive control in much of the region.

China has also built artificial islands in the South China Sea to the serious objections of nearby nations.

Harris on Tuesday said the U.S. will steadfastly support the territorial integrity of the Philippines.

“We will continue to rally our allies and partners against unlawful and irresponsible behavior,” she said. “When the international rules-based order is threatened somewhere, it is threatened everywhere.”

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