Blinken made the comments Sunday, in a statement marking the fifth anniversary of a ruling by an independent arbitration tribunal rejecting China’s expansive territorial claims over the waterway, siding with the Philippines.
“We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” Blinken said.
Blinken also called on the Chinese government to “abide by its obligations under international law (and) cease its provocative behavior” in the South China Sea.
Beijing has disavowed the tribunal ruling and continued to build up and militarily reinforce its positions in the South China Sea. It claims the US and other countries are increasing tensions in the region by sending their warships there in violation of its sovereignty.
Washington counters that its naval presence in the South China Sea supports freedom of navigation under international maritime law.
“Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway,” Blinken said in Sunday’s statement, referring to China by its official name.
He called on China to “take steps to reassure the international community that it is committed to the rules-based maritime order that respects the rights of all countries, big and small.”
Blinken said the US stands behind the 2016 ruling against China, as reiterated last year by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said at the time that “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”
In response to Pompeo’s comments, the Chinese Embassy in Washington accused the US of “distorting” international law and “exaggerating” the situation in order to “sow discord.”