The Philippines Reaffirms Ties With the U.S. as Tensions Heat Up in West Philippine Sea
The U.S.A.’s efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the region came to fruition today when President Rodrigo Duterte met with U.S. President Joe Biden’s defense secretary Lloyd Austin. The two reaffirmed the U.S. ties with the Philippines by reinstating the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows U.S. troops to continue military exercises in the country.
The reaffirmed alliance could likely deter Beijing’s efforts to further encroach into the West Philippine Sea, an area of continued tension as China refuses to acknowledge Philippine sovereignty over the zone. The newly appointed U.S. defense chief discussed the WPS issue with Duterte and vowed that the U.S. would play a deeper role in the Asian region.
“They agreed that the alliance can be further strengthened through enhanced communication and greater cooperation, particularly in the areas of pandemic response, combating transnational crimes, including the war on illegal drugs, maritime domain awareness, the rule of law, and trade and investments,” according to a statement from Malacanang.
This is a different approach from the administration when one year ago, Duterte moved to scrap the VFA and weaken U.S.-Philippine ties in what he considered as an unbeneficial partnership for the Philippines. However, as tensions rise in the West Philippine Sea, his tactics have changed as China, considered a strong Duterte ally, has continued its encroachment in the WPS.
The VFA is one of the many treaties the Philippines has with the U.S., another being the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America that the U.S. brought up earlier this month, warning China that an attack on Philippine forces in the West Philippine Sea would trigger the U.S. to enter the fight. The U.S. alliance with the Philippines is its oldest alliance in Asia.
Despite this reaffirmation of ties between the U.S. and the Philippines, the situation is not so black and white as to say that we now sit on the side of America. China is still a strong ally of this administration, having provided the largest number of COVID-19 vaccine doses as well as investments and COVID-19 aid.
Even with the pandemic, the Pentagon chief has been making the rounds in Southeast Asia, visiting Singapore and Vietnam to strengthen the U.S. ties with its allies in the region.
According to Austin, “America’s network of alliances and friendships is an unparalleled strategic asset, and it’s an asset I do not take for granted.”