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MANILA: The United States has an “unwavering” commitment to the Philippines, US Vice President Kamala Harris told the country’s president Monday during a visit aimed at countering China and rebuilding ties that were fractured over human rights abuses in the Southeast Asian nation.

Harris is the highest-ranking US official to visit Manila since President Ferdinand Marcos took power in June, signalling a growing rapport between the longtime allies after years of frosty relations under his Beijing-friendly predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.

She also met with her Philippine counterpart Sara Duterte, the daughter of the former leader whose deadly drug war sparked an international investigation into alleged human rights abuses.

“We stand with you in defence of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea,” Harris told Marcos at the start of talks in the presidential palace in Manila.

“An attack on the Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke the US mutual defence commitment... that is our unwavering commitment to the Philippines.”

Marcos said he did not “see a future for the Philippines that does not include the United States.”

The United States has a long and complex relationship with the Philippines — and the Marcos family. Marcos’s dictator father ruled the former US colony for two decades with the support of Washington, which saw him as a Cold War ally.

Relations between the two countries soured under the foul-mouthed Duterte. In 2016, Duterte called Barack Obama a “son of a whore” over warnings he would be questioned by the then US president over his controversial drug war.

Washington is now seeking to bolster its security alliance with Manila under the new president.

That includes a mutual defence treaty and a 2014 pact, known by the acronym EDCA, which allows for the US military to store defence equipment and supplies on five Philippine bases.

It also allows US troops to rotate through those military bases.

EDCA stalled under Duterte but the United States and the Philippines have expressed support for accelerating its implementation as China becomes increasingly assertive.

“We have identified new locations and have begun a process with the Philippines to finalise those,” a US official told reporters on condition of anonymity ahead of Harris’s meeting with Marcos.

On Tuesday, Harris will visit the Philippine island province of Palawan, which lies along hotly contested waters in the South China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of it.

Beijing has ignored a 2016 international tribunal ruling that its claims have no legal basis.Harris will meet members of the Philippine Coast Guard on board one of its two biggest vessels and deliver a speech.

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