VP Harris visits the Philippine island on the front lines in a naval feud

MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Kamala Harris will underscore America’s commitment to defending the Philippines treaty with a visit that began Sunday and includes flying to an island province off the disputed South China Sea where Washington has accused China of harassing smaller applicant nations .

After attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Thailand, Harris flew to Manila for a red carpet reception on Sunday night. On Monday, she is meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for talks aimed at strengthening Washington’s oldest treaty alliance in Asia and boosting economic ties, a senior U.S. government official, who has not been identified according to the practice, said in a statement Online briefing before the visit.

Harris said her trip to Thailand was “fairly successful” as she reaffirmed US commitment to the region at a climate change roundtable on Sunday afternoon.

The panel of climate activists, civil society members and business leaders focused on clean energy and the threat that climate change poses to the Mekong River, which more than 60 million people in Southeast Asia use for food, water and transport. Harris announced US plans to provide up to $20 million in clean energy funding for the region through the Japan-US Mekong Power Partnership.

Before departing, she visited a local market and perused a maze of shops, chatting with shopkeepers and buying Thai green curry paste.

On Tuesday, she flies to the South China Sea province of Palawan to meet with fishermen, villagers, officials and the coast guard.

Once there, she will visit the border island, which is at the forefront of long-simmering territorial disputes between China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, as the senior US leader.

According to Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo, the Philippine Coast Guard is set to welcome Harris aboard one of its largest patrol vessels, the BRP Teresa Magbanua, in Palawan, where she is scheduled to deliver a speech.

Harris will underscore the importance of international law, free trade and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the US official said.

China can view the visit as it pleases, the official added in response to a question, but Washington’s message is that as a member of the Indo-Pacific, the US is committed and committed to the security of its allies in the region.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said Harris’ trip to Palawan showed the extent of American support for an ally and concern over China’s actions in the disputed sea.

“It’s as obvious as you can get that the message they’re trying to convey to the Chinese is that ‘we support our allies like the Philippines on these disputed islands,'” Romualdez told The Associated Press.

Washington and Beijing have long been on a collision course in contested waters. While the US has no claim to the strategic waterway that carries an estimated $5 trillion in global trade transit each year, it has declared that freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea is in America’s national interest.