US DEFENSE Secretary Lloyd Austin has affirmed his country’s commitment to Philippine security at a meeting with his counterpart at the Pentagon on Tuesday, the US Defense department said in a statement. 

The agency said US commitment to Philippine security is iron-clad, adding that their Mutual Defense Treaty commitments extend to Philippine Armed Forces, public vessels and aircraft in the South China Sea. 

Mr. Austin met with Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana at the US defense headquarters in Virginia, where they affirmed the importance of ensuring peace and stability in the disputed waterway, it added. 

They agreed to strengthen their treaty commitments, enhance maritime cooperation and improve interoperability and information-sharing. 

The officials also discussed the importance of unitedly condemning Russian aggression and standing behind Ukraine. 

China claims more than 80% of the waterway based on a 1940s map that overlaps with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas. 

China has refused to honor a 2016 ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal that voided its claim. — Norman P. Aquino