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  • U.S. President Trump talks with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte during the gala dinner marking ASEAN's 50th anniversary in Manila, Philippines.

    U.S. President Trump talks with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte during the gala dinner marking ASEAN's 50th anniversary in Manila, Philippines. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 February 2020

The U.S. embassy in Manila called it “a serious step with significant implications.”

United States President Donald Trump said Wednesday he doesn’t mind Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to end a decades-old military agreement with the U.S., a position at odds with that of his defense secretary who viewed the move with dismay.

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Duterte on Tuesday announced the termination of the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the decision “unfortunate” as Washington and its allies press China to abide by “international rules” in Asia. 

The U.S. embassy in Manila called it “a serious step with significant implications.” Duterte’s decision, sparked by the revocation of a U.S. visa held by a former police chief who led Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, takes legal effect in 180 days and U.S. officials have expressed hope it can be reversed or delayed.

“I don’t really mind if they would like to do that, it will save a lot of money,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about Duterte’s move and whether anything could be done to get him to reconsider. “My views are different from others,” he added.

Trump has frequently expressed a desire to bring U.S. military forces home from decades-long deployments abroad and has strong-armed some allies into paying more for the right to U.S. defense.

Trump said the U.S. had helped the Philippines defeat Islamic State militants. He said he had “a very good” relationship with Duterte and added: “we’ll see what happens.”

The decision comes as China-Philippines relations have experienced a turnaround since 2016 when Duterte verbally agreed to allow both nations access to fishing areas in each other’s controlled waters of the disputed sea. 

The Chinese government refers to the relationship between the two countries as upgraded to “comprehensive strategic cooperation.” Both countries agreed to adhere to the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea. Chinese and Filipino officials say they will continue to cooperate on the One Belt, One Road initiative.

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