MANILA – The United States government has called on China to abide by the 2016 arbitral tribunal award, as it reiterated its “strong support” for the Philippines amid the presence of Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef — part of the country’s exclusive economic zone — and other parts of the West Philippine Sea.

In a press briefing Wednesday, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said Washington shares Manila’s concern about the swarming of Chinese vessels that have also spread to other parts of the disputed area.

“We have reiterated our strong support for the Philippines and we have called on the PRC to abide by the 2016 arbitral tribunal award under the Law of the Sea Convention, which is final and legally binding on all parties,” he said.

The US, he said, will defend the Philippines in the event of an armed attack against Filipino vessels in the contested South China Sea under the two nations’ Mutual Defense Treaty.

“As we have stated before, an armed attack against the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” he said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier promised a barrage of diplomatic protests against China for “every day of delay” in withdrawing their ships from Julian Felipe Reef.

Last April 5, it lambasted China’s “clearly false narrative” of expansive and illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea and rejected its assertion that the reef and its waters are their traditional fishing ground.

The 2016 Arbitral Award issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration conclusively settled the issue of historic rights and maritime entitlement in the South China Sea.

It ruled that claims to historic rights or sovereign rights that exceed the geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under UNCLOS are “without lawful effect” therefore invalidating China’s nine-dash line that covers nearly 80 percent in the area and overlaps with the country’s waters. (PNA)