MANILA: The United States and the Philippines vowed Friday (Jan 20) to “invigorate” defence cooperation to address shared security concerns including disputes over the South China Sea.

Manila hosted a high-level security dialogue with its top defence ally as part of efforts by President Ferdinand Marcos to restore a seven-decade partnership that was unsettled by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.

The allies agreed “to invigorate defence and security cooperation and ensure the alliance adapts effectively to face new and emerging challenges”, a joint statement said.

“I can assure you that during our conversations, the important issues related to the South China Sea were central to our conversations,” US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink told a news conference.

China and the Philippines are at odds over the South China Sea, with Beijing claiming sovereignty over almost the entire area despite an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of the sea.

“We agreed on several important initiatives that demonstrate our unwavering commitment to our alliance and partnership,” Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Maria Theresa Lazaro told the news conference.

The two countries, bound by a 1951 mutual defence treaty, agreed to hold talks in mid-2023 that would allow their governments to “plan ahead for and ensure more coordinated responses to potential flashpoints”.

They also agreed to speed up the completion of projects that allow US forces to store equipment at select Philippine military bases, as well as to identify “additional agreed locations” for the purpose.

Washington will host a “maritime dialogue” with Manila this year to identify potential joint maritime activities.

Poorly armed Manila also agreed Friday to take steps to “streamline technology transfer” and develop a “roadmap for defence modernisation”.

On Wednesday President Marcos expressed renewed concern over the South China Sea including tense interactions between US and Chinese warships in the area.

“If something goes wrong here we are going to suffer,” Marcos said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

During his 2016 to 2022 presidency, Duterte repeatedly made public his doubts that the US would come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of armed conflict with China, despite their defence pact.

He worked to build ties with Beijing to bring in trade and investment, while setting aside the territorial dispute.

Kritenbrink reiterated Friday what he called “America’s ironclad commitment to the security of the Republic of the Philippines”.

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