Source: Robert Besser
MANILA, Philippines: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has invited U.S. troops to return to bases the Americans only recently evacuated.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with Philippines officials on Thursday to sign the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), allowing for the rotation of thousands of U.S. troops in the Philippines for war drills and exercises.
The pact has assumed additional importance as the United States and its allies contend with an increasingly assertive China.
Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesperson, later said the president’s decision was “based on upholding the Philippines’ strategic core interest…and clarity of the U.S. position on its obligations and commitments under the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty).”
“This provides certainty for us going forward, we can do long-range planning and do different types of exercises,” Austin said during a news conference in Manila.
Earlier, Duterte said he would terminate the existing bases pact, after the United States denied a visa to a Philippine senator who is an ally of the president.
For the United States, having troops in the Philippines is important in countering China’s alleged increasingly aggressive behavior in the region.
“(Duterte’s decision) opens up significant possibilities for strengthening the alliance, that were otherwise closed,” said Greg Poling, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as quoted by Reuters.
There are tensions between the Philippines and China over borders and islands in the South China Sea.
Additionally, the United States has warned China that an attack on Philippine forces in the South China Sea would trigger a 1951 U.S.-Philippines mutual defense treaty.
There are, however, still questions about Duterte’s unpredictability.
“Some of the celebration is premature… (the VFA) will continue to be under threat so long as Duterte remains president,” said Aaron Connelly, with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.