Philippines president U-turns on withdrawal from US military alliance

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - President Duterte has been distancing the country from its long-time US ally and forging closer ties with China

June 2, 2020

June 2, 2020

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has suspended plans to pull out of a two-decade military pact with the United States following political developments in the region, his foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Mr Duterte warned Washington in January he would repeal the Visiting Forces Agreement – which allows for the deployment of US troops in the country – after the US denied entry to his political ally.

The agreement, which is central to one of Washington’s most important alliances in Asia, was to be terminated in August and would have been Mr Duterte’s biggest move yet towards delivering on long-standing threats to downgrade ties with Washington.

Mr Duterte has become increasingly critical towards the Philippines’ former colonial ruler, alarming some members of his administration who see the American military alliance as instrumental to Philippines security.

His embrace of historic rival China has prompted opponents to accuse him of gambling with sovereignty in pursuit of massive investments that have not materialised.

The Visiting Forces Agreement, signed in 1998, accorded legal status to thousands of US troops who were rotated in the country for military exercises and humanitarian assistance operations.

His decision to downgrade the defence alliance came after the US rescinded a visa for former police chief turned senator Ronald dela Rosa, an early architect of the country’s violent crackdown on drugs.

The official reason given for pulling out of the agreement was to allow the Philippines to diversify foreign relations. Mr Duterte has argued that the presence of US forces makes the Philippines a potential target for foreign aggression.

The official notice for suspending the withdrawal said the decision was taken “in light of political and other developments in the region”.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said his decision to retain the pact was well received by the United States. “Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defence co-operation with the Philippines,” the US Embassy in Manila said.

Updated: June 2, 2020 08:53 PM

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