As tensions over trade intensify between China and the United States, direct conflict seems far off—but one former U.S. territory may be accelerating Washington’s call to arms. On Wednesday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte invoked the Philippines-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty and called on the United States to send the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet to guard the Philippines in response to Beijing’s recent aggression in the South China Sea. Duterte’s statements come just after a meeting between Sung Kim, the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, and Jose Manuel Romualdez, the Philippine ambassador to the United States, in Manila.
What’s going on?
Last month, Duterte came under heavy criticism after a Chinese vessel crashed into a Philippine fishing boat near Reed Bank, a disputed territory in the South China Sea, and left the 22 crew members aboard to drown. A Vietnamese ship rescued the sailors, but Duterte’s description of the incident as a “little maritime accident” and failure to move against China enraged the public.