US and Philippine diplomats are strengthening ties amid tensions with China.

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA, PHILIPPINES - DECEMBER 10: A China coast guard vessel sails near the Filipino ship on a resupply mission to the communities and Filipino military personnel stationed in the Spratlys, on December 10, 2023, in Palawan, Philippines. Escorted by Philippine Coast Guard ships, civil society and fishing community gathered in El Nido town to embark on a civilian-led resupply and gift mission to residents and military personnel stationed in the far flung islands in the contested area of the Spratlys group of islands as Christmas nears. The mission was cut short as China navy and coast guard ships present in the area prompted the captain of the Filipino supply boat to turn back, against the assurance of the Philippine Coast Guard to push through. China cost guard ships earlier fired water cannons and rammed another civilian boat performing resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal and a government fisheries boat in Scarborough shoal. The Philippines, the only predominantly Christian nation in South East Asia, has been celebrating Christmas for more than 400 years. (Photo by Jes Aznar/Getty Images)

 The US and the Philippines’ top diplomats discussed “important opportunities” to further strengthen their longstanding alliance next year, the Southeast Asian nation’s Department of Foreign Affairs said Thursday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo tackled their nations’ “robust” alliance during a phone conversation Thursday Manila time, the agency said in a statement.

The officials tackled ongoing South China Sea tensions, the US State Department said in an earlier statement, adding that Blinken underscored during the call the US’ “ironclad commitments” to its defense treaty with the Philippines.

Why China, Philippines Keep Clashing at Sea and What Comes Next

The top diplomats’ call took place a week after China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi also spoke to Manalo over the phone and warned of “serious difficulties” in the relationship between Beijing and Manila. Tensions between China and the Philippines have escalated, with their vessels clashing in the South China Sea several times in recent months.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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