(UPDATE) AMID growing concerns in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is coming to Manila for a day visit in August, the US Embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs said in separate statements.

Blinken's visit comes after Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman arrived in the country in June.

The US Embassy in Manila said on Friday that Blinken will be in the country on August 6 to meet with President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo and discuss bilateral efforts to "strengthen US-Philippine alliance, including through increased cooperation on energy, trade and investment, advancing our shared democratic values, and pandemic recovery."

Blinken's visit will be the first for a US Secretary of State since his predecessor Mike Pompeo came to Manila in March 2019.

Although the points of discussion between Blinken and Marcos have yet to be disclosed, both are expected to touch on the dispute in the South China Sea, which has caused tension between Washington and Beijing and among claimant countries, including the Philippines.

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The Philippines claims parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and calls it the WPS.

On Friday, China slammed US Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro's criticisms of Beijing's increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea, saying it's America's military deployments in the disputed waters — which it called "navigation bullying" — that could spark confrontations.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila said it strongly deplored Del Toro's remarks, which were "unfounded accusations against and maliciously smeared China" and inflated the "China threat."

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press while on a visit to Manila, Del Toro underscored how Beijing has encroached on the sovereign waters of its Asian neighbors in violation of international law.

US military focus in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the South China Sea, would never slacken and, in fact, has intensified despite the war in Ukraine, he said in assurance to Asian allies, including the Philippines.

China has had increasingly tense territorial spats in recent years with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety on historical grounds. Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the contested waters.

Washington lays no claims to the strategic waters but has said the peaceful resolution of the disputes — along with freedom of navigation and overflight in the waterway where a bulk of world trade transits — are in the US national interest.

Beijing rejected a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated its claims and continues to defy the landmark decision on a case brought up by the Philippine government.

Del Toro renewed assurances by President Joe Biden that the US would honor its obligations under a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty in case Philippine forces, ships and aircraft come under attack in the contested waters.

"As President Biden has said, if one country violates one inch of Filipino sovereignty, whether it be at sea or on shore or an offshore island, we will be there to support the Filipino nation and the Filipino people in every possible way," Del Toro said.

President Marcos has taken the same position and said he would assert the Philippines' rights over the WPS and talk to China "consistently with a firm voice."

"Our sovereignty is sacred, and we will not compromise it in any way," Marcos said. "We will not allow a single square millimeter of our maritime coastal rights to be trampled upon."

Marcos also said he would use the 2016 arbitral ruling to assert Philippine territorial rights.

He added that he will engage not only China but the Philippines' Southeast Asian neighbors in reaching a peaceful settlement of maritime rows.

Marcos' predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who has been friendly to China during his six-year term, ordered his then Foreign Affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to end the three-year negotiations with Beijing for joint oil exploration in the WPS on June 25 or five days before he stepped down from office. Locsin said that throughout the negotiations, the Philippines never surrendered even "a particle of its sovereignty."

China's move to transform seven disputed reefs into missile-protected island bases in the Spratlys, the most hotly contested section of the South China Sea, "is very concerning" and prompted the US and other Western nations to press on with the freedom of navigation patrols around the Chinese-claimed territories.

But the Chinese Embassy said the US military deployments "from half a globe away" aimed "to flex muscles, make military provocations and create maritime and air tensions," conducting "navigation bullying" in the name of freedom of navigation.

"In an attempt to preserve its hegemony, the US keeps intensifying power projection in this region, and deliberately seeks to widen differences and provoke tensions," it said.

China and other rival claimants "have exercised restraint, kept their differences and disputes in a proper place, and got them on the track of consultation and management," the embassy said.

However, rival claimant states, including the Philippines and Vietnam, have filed numerous diplomatic protests over the years amid China's increasingly assertive actions, including its transformation of seven disputed reefs into what are now missile-protected island bases.

Diplomatic talks have eased occasional confrontations but have not ended them.

"The South China Sea is not a 'hunting ground' for countries outside the region, still less should it be a 'wrestling ground' for big powers," the Chinese statement said. "We staunchly support all efforts that are conducive to peaceful settlement and management of disputes, and unequivocally reject words and actions that aim to stoke tension and confrontation in the region."