In February, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced plans to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement with Washington, which allows US forces to be stationed in the country. The pandemic crisis and tensions between the United States and China have led to the reversal. The Philippine military accuse Duterte of bowing to Beijing for investments that never materialised.
Manila (AsiaNews) – The Philippines will not cancel a twenty-year military agreement with the United States because of national security considerations.
At a press conference yesterday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said that the decision stems from growing tensions between superpowers in Southeast Asia, an indirect reference to the confrontation between the United States and China amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In February, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced plans to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement signed with Washington in 1999, which allows the stationing of US troops on Philippine territory, and far-reaching joint exercises between US and Philippine forces.
Since his election in 2016, Duterte has done everything to build a privileged relationship with China. Unlike his predecessor, Duterte sought to ease tensions in the South China Sea, ignoring a ruling by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which in 2016 called Chinese claims to almost 90 per cent of the disputed sea as legally baseless.
The Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and to some extent Indonesia, oppose Chinese maritime claims. However, this has not stopped Beijing from militarising some islands in the sea. To contain Chinese expansion, US warships carry out regular patrols near these military outposts.
According to several observers, Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea, combined with the need to receive aid from the United States to fight COVID-19, have pushed Duterte to step back.
The Philippine president has also been the target of strong criticism from the country's military, which accuse him of bowing to Beijing's will for investments that were promised but never delivered.
A first sign of the change in Manila occurred last April, when the Philippine government condemned the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea, which Hanoi blames on a Chinese coastguard ship.
Indonesia, which usually tries to steer clear of any confrontation with China over maritime disputes, also took a stand against the Chinese.
In an official note sent to the United Nations at the end of May, Jakarta recognised the validity of the Hague Court ruling, noting that the Nine-Dash line, the demarcation line used by Beijing to promote its historical claim, has no legal basis and violates the UN Convention on the law of the sea.