The Philippines and US have a long history of military cooperation. Source: Flickr
The Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, has announced that the joint naval exercise with the US due to be held soon will be the last, while promising to honour their long-standing defence treaty.
The bombastic president has frightened foreign investors, who have been pulling back from the country, weakening Manila’s stock market and sending the peso this week to its lowest level against the US dollar since September 2009.
Duterte has strained ties with the US, calling for the withdrawal of US special forces from the southern island of Mindanao, saying they were complicating his operations against Islamist militants.
“I am serving notice now to the Americans, this will be the last military exercise,” Duterte told a gathering of Hanoi’s Filipino expats.
The outspoken head of state said the concept of a conflict between the Philippines and China was “more imaginary”.
The Philippine military and US Marines are due to hold their annual amphibious landing exercises from October 4 to 12 in the north of the main island of Luzon.
Military leaders from both countries had already reportedly started preparing for 2017’s exercises.
Duterte said the Philippine navy would not join any patrols in the South China Sea to avoid getting dragged into a conflict between Washington and Beijing, but would continue to honour its 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty. “If the battleground will be in San Francisco, or China, then I’m OK with that,” Duterte said.
But Duterte said he would not surrender the legal victory the Philippines won in July at the international tribunal in The Hague that dismissed Chinese claims to ownership and economic rights over most of the South China Sea.
Earlier this week, the unpredictable president said he would establish alliances with China and Russia to increase trade and commerce and the defence and foreign ministries had started exploring weapons deal with Moscow. Duterte reportedly ordered his defence minister to seek military equipment from China and Russia to fight drug traffickers and insurgents.
US security analyst Richard Jacobson said Duterte’s stance could embolden China as Washington appeared to be losing one of its key regional alliances.
“One could say that the US-Philippines relationship might become strained and even shaken,” Jacobson told Reuters. “The US 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.”