Philippines Postpones Withdrawal of U.S. Troops Again
The Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had decided to abrogate a military cooperation with the United States. But he postponed the suspension again by another 6 months. The decision comes as China has a disturbing presence in Philippine waters.
In February 2020, The Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced he suspended the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, which provides the legal framework for the U.S. troops to operate in the Philippines and the basis of their military collaborations.
Since Duterte came into office in 2016, relations between the Philippines and the United States have been difficult. Duterte was more inclined to the Chinese trade and investment. The Philippines’ abrupt unilateral decision to suspend the VFA came after a Senator, the former national police chief who led Duterte’s war on drugs, was refused a visa for the United States.
In February 2020, President Duterte said the U.S. had to pay if they wanted to be present close to the Chinese armed forces. But he also acknowledged the necessity of their presence in the Philippines. And on June 14, the suspension has been postponed for the third time, after June and November 2020, to further address “concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement“.
China claims parts of Philippines' territory
The decision comes as China has been closely luring at the Philippine maritime territory recently.
The South China Sea has important trade routes, fishing waters and possible oil and mineral resources. But China doesn’t recognize a 2016 ruling from the International Court of Justice dismissing its historical claim of about 90 percent of the South China Sea. It also condemned the Chinese constructions of artificial islands in the region. And the area, the size of Mexico, includes the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte disregarded the agreement, which he considered as a mere piece of paper at the time, in order to favor Chinese economic aid and investment.
But in March 2021, about 200 Chinese ships went into the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone. It has forced the President to increase its military presence in the South China Sea. China condemned the move as it considered to be an escalation in the dispute. The fishing ships, which Beijing stipulated had no militia aboard, at least complicates fishing and offshore energy industries for the other coastal countries.
“Some things in life cannot be bargained, and this is one of them“, told Duterte in April referring to the claims of Beijing. It wasn’t the case for the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Media sources and useful links:
- Department of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, Twitter, June 2021, Free access
- Philippines grateful to China, but West Philippine Sea ‘cannot be bargained’, ABS CBN, April 2021, Free access