MANILA – Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and US State Secretary Antony Blinken on Friday discussed the two nations’ concerns over the continued presence of Chinese vessels at the West Philippine Sea, including the Julian Felipe Reef.

In a readout, the State Department said “both expressed their shared concerns” with the massing of Chinese vessels in the area and “reiterated their calls on the People’s Republic of China to abide by the 2016 arbitration ruling”.

During the call, Blinken reaffirmed the applicability of the 1951 United States-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty to the South China Sea.

The US State Department said both officials noted the importance of “working closely to enhance” the seven-decades-old defense pact in light of the recent geopolitical developments and challenges in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in the West Philippine Sea.

“Secretary Blinken and Secretary Locsin welcomed enhanced bilateral and multilateral cooperation on the South China Sea,” it said.

The two top diplomats also touched on Washington D.C.’s assistance to Manila’s Covid-19 response as well as its efforts to combat rising hate and violence against Asian-Americans in the US.

“Both Secretaries expressed confidence and optimism in the future trajectory of the Philippines-United States bilateral cooperation as this year marks the 75th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the two countries,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The call coincided with the commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor), which honors thousands of Filipino and American troops who were taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese and were forced to march some 112 kilometers from Bataan to Tarlac with no food and water in 1942. (PNA)