President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he wants an end to the Philippines’ joint military exercises with the United States, saying the upcoming scheduled war games will be the last under his term.
Duterte made the announcement in a speech before the Filipino community in Vietnam.
“You are scheduled to hold war games again, which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise. Jointly, Philippines, the US, the last one,” Duterte said, while adding he will continue to uphold the Philippines’ treaties with the US.
An amphibious landing exercise will be held on October 4 to 12 on multiple locations in Luzon and Palawan and will involve some 1,400 US troops and 500 Filipino soldiers. Military leaders from the two countries have also started preparing for a new set of exercises next year.
Duterte said he is only allowing the upcoming exercise to continue to allow Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to fulfill commitments.
“Ayoko lang mapahiya si Defense Sec,” said Duterte.
The Philippines and the US last conducted joint exercises in April, before Duterte took office. The move infuriated Beijing, with Chinese state media warning against “outsiders” interfering in the South China Sea issue.
China and the Philippines are embroiled in a maritime row, with Manila securing a tribunal decision invalidating much of Beijing’s historical claims last July. But Duterte has sought closer ties with China, in stark contrast to his predecessor Benigno Aquino III.
The Philippines and the US are treaty allies, having signed a mutual defense treaty in 1951 and a visiting forces agreement in 1998. The US is also the Philippines’ biggest foreign investor and the country’s second biggest export market next to Japan.
But the relationship has been frayed under Duterte, who has bristled at criticism about the rising death toll of his administration’s drug war from the US and other institutions such as the United Nations and the European Union.
On Monday, he said that he is about to “cross the Rubicon” in his relationship with the US.
Prior to that, Duterte expressed his desire to rid Mindanao of American troops supposedly to pursue peace talks.
He also declared earlier this month that he wanted to stop joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea amid the maritime dispute with China, which he again reiterated in his Hanoi address.
“There will never be an occasion that I will send a gray ship there. Not because I am afraid. Not because takot ako,” said Duterte.
Washington and Manila agreed on joint patrols in the South China Sea before Duterte’s election win this year, and a Pentagon spokesman said earlier this month three had been conducted from March until July.
Richard Jacobson, an American security expert, said Duterte’s posturing could embolden China, which is expected to exploit what it perceives as a crack in the US-Philippines relationship.
“One could say that the U.S.-Philippines relationship might become strained and even shaken,” Jacobson told Reuters, but he doubts if it will be broken.
“The U.S. geopolitical stakes in the region are much too high to react to his hyperbole. The current attitude in Washington is mature – more of patience than feeling provoked.” —report from Tina Panganiban-Perez/JST, GMA News with Reuters
China open to discussing PHL fishermen access to Scarborough –envoy
China’s top diplomat to the Philippines said Beijing is open but made no commitment to discussing President Rodrigo Duterte’s appeal to allow Filipino fishermen to return to Scarborough Shoal during the Philippine leader’s visit to China in October.
“We would like to discuss this issue with the Philippines and that we can look at the possibilities on how we could handle it properly,” Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said in an interview at China’s national day reception Tuesday night.
China’s Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua talks to Philippine President Duterte
Asked if Duterte’s demand for the return of Filipinos’ fishing rights at Scarborough will be allowed by China, Zhao said: “Yes, you can say it. But the President has already made it clear that if he goes to China he said…we’re going to focus on issues that unite us instead of issues that will divide us.”
In July 12, an international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands favored the Philippines on the case it filed against China and invalidated Beijing’s sweeping and historical claims on nearly the entire South China Sea.
The tribunal also ruled that no country can claim sovereign rights over the shoal, a traditional fishing ground for Filipino, Vietnamese and Chinese fishermen. China has refused to recognize the ruling.
Duterte said he wants China to comply with the ruling, but maintains a conciliatory stance towards Beijing, which accused the Philippine government under then President Benigno Aquino of stirring up tensions in the resource-rich waters when Manila sued them before an international court.
The President’s position indicates that he does not want to antagonize Beijing as the Philippines prepares for bilateral talks to repair strained ties with its Asian neighbor and for China to eventually allow Filipino fishermen back to Scarborough Shoal.
China seized the shoal, called Panatag in Filipino, from the Philippines after a standoff in 2012.
Chinese fishermen also suffered
“We quite understand that your President is concerned about the well-being of your fishermen and our fishermen also suffered from this kind of tension. So based on traditional friendship and brotherhood we would like to figure out how we can handle it,” said Zhao.
In his reception speech, Zhao said it is “natural” to have different views and positions on certain issues between two independent nations.
What’s important, he noted, is for both sides to commit to “peaceful means” to settle differences through “friendly bilateral dialogues and negotiations.”
“As friends and partners, as long as China and the Philippines maintain the political willingness to resolve problems, there will be no insurmountable obstacles in the future development of bilateral relations,” he said.
Under Duterte’s predecessor, Aquino, relations with China were severely strained over escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
But Duterte has taken steps to bring the relationship back to normal.
The President also said he is considering bolstering defense cooperation with China and even Russia. He also said he wants to get armaments from them for the Philippine military, which traditionally acquires equipment from its long-time treaty ally, the United States, and western partners.
Zhao acknowledged that relations have improved and would prosper in this new era.
“Ever since President Duterte took office, China and Philippines have been engaging in friendly interactions, which have yielded a series of positive results,” he said.
“The clouds are fading away. The sun is rising over the horizon, and will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations.” —ALG, GMA News
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