According to a Philippine Daily Inquirer news report, the United States said it will not side with any party in the Spratlys conflict. “The US does not take sides in regional territorial disputes,” the US press attaché Rebecca Thompson said in an e-mailed statement when contacted for comment to deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte’s invoking of the 60-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). So sorry, Philippines.
On the other hand, previously the US has categorically declared that the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, being claimed by China, Japan and Taiwan, fell under the US-Japan Security Alliance. Thus, it said technically, the US would be obliged to bail Japan out if there were a fight over the Senkakus even if the US doesn’t take a position on who owns the islands. According to the reports, the Japan-U.S. security treaty specifies that the US will help defend areas that Japan administers. (Eurasia Review and NY Times)
Let us check then the two treaties and watch out for the differences on the carefully tended phraseology:
Japan-US Security Treaty (19 January 1960) -
Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security. (Article V)
RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty (30 August 1951) –
Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security. (Article IV)
For purposes of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific. (Article V)
Note that while the US agreed for Japan to administer the Senkakus according to the said reports, there was no such agreement between the Philippines and the US on the Spratly islands. Observe that the MTD is likewise Pacific-centric and tends to favor the country with substantial interests over it. Carlos Romulo, Joaquin Elizalde, Vicente Francisco and Diosdado Macapagal signed the MTD for and on behalf of the Philippines.