President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent remarks against the United States and his announcements about opening alliances with China might embolden the Asian superpower, according to a security expert.
Richard Jacobson, American security expert, said that Duterte’s current position may prompt China to exploit what they perceive as cracks in the US-PH relationship.
He added that there might be strained relations between the Philippines and the US.
“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,” he added.
Jacobson’s statement came after Duterte announced on Wednesday night, September 28, in front of the Filipino community in Hanoi, Vietnam that he wanted the scheduled October joint US-PH military exercises to be the last one.
“You are scheduled to hold war games again, which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise. Jointly, Philippines, the US, the last one,” Duterte said, as quoted by GMA News Online.
The last “war games” was held in April, before Duterte assumed office. It infuriated Beijing, so much so that the Chinese state media warned against “outsiders” getting involved in the South China Sea issue.
Reuters reported that the US has not received any official notification about the Philippines’ desire to terminate joint exercises.
“Our focus is on the relationship today and moving it forward. We continue to believe that that’s possible… (W)e have significant security commitments with the Philippines. We’re committed to meeting those commitments and to furthering this relationship,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay also said the same thing about the Philippines respecting the agreement related to war games with the US.
In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a ruling in favor of the Philippines over its claim in the West Philippine Sea. However, Beijing does not recognize the ruling.
Duterte has since been pushing for bilateral talks with China over the disputed sea. Antagonizing China might stop the potential talks and the economic alliance that Duterte wanted to establish between the two Asian countries.
The Philippines and the US, on the other hand, have been long-time treaty allies as both countries signed a mutual defense treaty in 1951 and a visiting forces agreement in 1998. According to a report by GMA News Online, the US also accounts for the biggest foreign investment in the Philippines and the second biggest export market next to Japan.
Lately, though, relations between the US and the Philippines have been frayed when Duterte reacted negatively towards criticisms from the US, as well as the United Nations and European Union, directed at the Philippine government for the alleged extrajudicial killings linked to the war on drugs.