A major US ally in the Pacific wants to scrap an important military deal with the US, and that may give China an edge

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In this Jan. 7, 2020, photo provided by the Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, center, talks during the Joint Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police (AFP-PNP) Command Conference at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines. The Philippine government has ordered the mandatory evacuation of Filipino workers from Iraq and is sending a coast guard vessel to the Middle East to rapidly ferry its citizens to safety in case hostilities between the United States and Iran worsen, officials said Wednesday. (Alfred Frias/ Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division via AP)

The Philippine president has announced his intention to withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement that facilitates the US military presence in his country.
The actual end of that pact is still a long way off, but similar decisions in the past left Manila in a weaker position to counter China’s ambitions in the region.
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte followed through on numerous threats to end his country’s Visiting Forces Agreement with the US on Tuesday, notifying Washington of his intent to withdraw, triggering a 180-day countdown.

On Friday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said he thought the two sides could reach a political resolution, but recent history suggests the pact’s demise could be an opportunity for China in a strategically valuable region.

Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has repeatedly criticized the US and US officials. The US, which ruled the Philippines as a colony in the first half of the 20th century, remains close with the Philippines and is very popular there — as is Duterte, who had 87% approval in December.

But the Philippine president nevertheless decided to end the VFA, with his spokesman saying it was “time we rely on ourselves” and that the country “will strengthen our own defenses and not rely on any other country.”

While President Donald Trump said he didn’t “really mind,” the US Embassy in the Philippines said it would “carefully consider how best to move forward,” and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said it was “a move in the wrong direction.”

Asked on Friday about the decision, McCarthy touted US-Philippine ties.

Washington and Manila have “a long history” of working “very hard together” and of “very strong” military-to-military relations, McCarthy told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. “We have about 175 days to work through this diplomatically. I think we can drive forward to an end state that will work out for all of us politically.”

The US and the Philippines are also bound by the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, but ending the VFA would undercut those and the legal standing US forces have when in the Philippines.

The latter effect would endanger hundreds of military exercises and other military cooperation. US Special Forces troops have been stationed in the Philippines to help fight ISIS-linked militants, and the US military has trained there with other countries in the region. The Philippines has also hosted US troops deployed as part of Pacific Pathways, which is meant to allow US and forces in the region to build stronger partnerships and readiness.

Asked about the effect of the VFA withdrawal on US basing and training, McCarthy said Friday that “conversations are underway” particularly among the White House and State Department.

“The VFA, by changing that would change basically the freedoms that you have to do the training,” McCarthy said, “but this is a very close ally, and we would work through that, but it’s basically [changing] the protocols of how …read more

Source:: Business Insider

      

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