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President Joe Biden has warned China not to engage in dangerous and unlawful activity towards the Philippines and warned that any attack on the US ally would trigger Washington’s mutual defence treaty with Manila.

Speaking alongside Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese, Biden said he wanted to send a “clear message” to Beijing after China’s coastguard tried to block a Filipino supply mission in the South China Sea.

“The United States defence commitment to the Philippines is ironclad. Any attack on Filipino aircraft, vessels or armed forces will invoke our mutual defence treaty with the Philippines,” Biden said.

The Philippines this week accused China of harassing Filipino vessels near the Second Thomas Shoal, a sandbank inside its exclusive economic zone.

Chinese ships tried to stop Manila from supplying soldiers stationed on the Sierra Madre, a decades-old ship lodged on the shoal. China says the shoal is part of its territory, which is not an internationally recognised claim.

While putting China on notice, Biden stressed that he was “not looking for conflict” with the country as he welcomed Albanese for a visit aimed at bolstering an alliance that is critical to countering Beijing in the Indo-Pacific.

Biden’s warning came just as Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is scheduled to arrive in Washington on his first visit to the US capital since 2019. Wang is expected to discuss a possible summit between Biden and President Xi Jinping if the Chinese leader attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco next month.

Albanese is scheduled to travel to Beijing next month for the first visit to China by an Australian leader since 2016. He said that although Australia was engaged in “strategic competition” with China, dialogue was important.

“Through dialogue comes understanding and comes a diffusion of tension,” Albanese said.

Albanese scored a diplomatic win this month when Beijing released an Australian journalist who had been detained in China for three years.

Asked if Australia could trust China, Biden said: “Trust but verify.”

Biden said he was also confident that Congress would pass legislation to reduce some of the US arms control obstacles that have held up implementation of Aukus, a US-UK-Australia security pact that will see Canberra procure a fleet of nuclear-propelled submarines for the first time.

Australia has been central to the US strategy to bolster alliances with allies in Europe and Asia to try to shape the environment around China. In addition to Aukus, the countries are co-operating on advanced technologies from hypersonic and counter-hypersonic weapons to artificial intelligence.

Charles Edel, an Australia expert at the CSIS think-tank, said Albanese’s visit to Washington had expanded existing strong defence ties by adding agreements on critical minerals, clean energy and tech co-operation. And he added that there were “signs of positive momentum” on Aukus.

“The critical question is not how aligned Australia and the US now find each other, but whether the ambitions goals that both Washington and Canberra have laid out can come online fast enough,” Edel said.

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