(Bloomberg) -- The US and the Philippines will open talks on a deal for the Asian nation to build nuclear power plants with American technology, Vice President Kamala Harris announced.

Harris met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte Carpio in Manila on Monday as part of an Asian trip to deepen security and economic ties. Last week, she unveiled a clean-energy partnership with Thailand that includes a US offer of help with building small nuclear reactors.   

Talks on a civil nuclear-energy agreement with the Philippines will aim to deploy advanced reactor technology to help the Philippines meet its power needs. Any deal would provide the legal basis for US exports of nuclear equipment and material, according to a White House fact sheet. 

In a bid to boost the supply chain for critical minerals, the US also will support development of a nickel and cobalt processing facility in the Philippines. 

The facility will expand the Philippines’ production of refined nickel and cobalt by 20,000 metric tons per year and enhance sustainable development of those critical minerals, the White House said. 

Defense Commitment

Harris departs Manila on Tuesday for Palawan, on the edge of the disputed South China Sea, which is claimed in whole or in part by several countries including China and the Philippines. During her meeting with Marcos, Harris also reaffirmed the US’ “unwavering” commitment to defend the Philippines in case of armed attack in the sea.

“We stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea,” Harris told Marcos, adding that any attack on the Philippines in the disputed area “would invoke US mutual defense commitments.”

She said there were “many opportunities” to boost the nations’ longstanding defense alliance. The US military currently operates at five sites in the Philippines, with the two countries conducting joint military exercises. They have identified new locations to expand their defense cooperation pact, but exact locations and their uses will not yet be publicized, a senior administration official told reporters.

Harris briefly met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bangkok. The Chinese Foreign Ministry offered a muted response Monday to Harris’s planned visit to Palawan. 

“We do not oppose the US’s exchanges with regional countries, but such exchanges should be conducive to regional stability and should not harm any other country’s interests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a regular news briefing Monday in Beijing. 

--With assistance from Colum Murphy and Brendan Scott.

(Updates with Marcos meeting in second paragraph.)

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