EXPERT ANALYSIS: Escalating Tensions Between China and the Philippines Could Draw the U.S. Into Conflict

SOUTH CHINA SEA: Philippine Coast Guard personnel ride a rubber boat past a Chinese Coast Guard vessel during a resupply mission to troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, on March 05, 2024.(Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONTLong-simmering tensions in the South China Sea and a recent spate of close calls and violent run-ins involving China and the Philippines, is raising concerns of escalation, in part, due to a 73-year-old mutual defense treaty that could draw the U.S. into conflict there. 

“If China physically attacks a treaty ally of the United States,” said Cipher Brief Expert RADM Mark Montgomery (Ret). “It’s going to put us in a very tough position because this isn’t like Ukraine and Russia, where Ukraine was not a treaty ally. This becomes a credibility issue for the United States.”

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