The State Department has reaffirmed that an attack on a Philippine vessel in the South China Sea will invoke the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty following a near miss between Chinese and Philippine coast guard vessels in the disputed waters.
The stand-off took place on April 23 when Manila says a larger Chinese ship blocked a Philippine patrol vessel after warning it to leave the area near Second Thomas Shoal, a Philippine-controlled reef in the Spratly Islands also claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
The incident received a lot of publicity as the Philippine coast guard had journalists onboard during the patrol, including reporters from The Associated Press. According to AP, the Chinese ship came within 120 to 150 feet of the Philippine vessel, which had to reverse its engines to avoid a collision.
For their part, Beijing blamed the Philippine vessel for the incident and said Manila staged the near collision for the press. "
"It needs to be stressed that the Philippine vessels intruded into the waters with press staff on board. This makes it clear that it was a premeditated provocation designed to initiate friction, blame it on China and hype up the incident," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said.
The State Department issued a statement that said the US "stands with The Philippines in the face of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard’s continued infringement upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea."
The statement went on to vow that the US was willing to go to war with China if a Philippine vessel came under attack.
"The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms that an armed attack in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea, on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard, would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty," the statement said.