The Philippine leader retains the agreement that allows the U.S. to conduct war exercises

Manila, Philippine (Associated Press) — Filipino Following the President, it will continue to conduct large-scale combat exercises with the United States Rodrigo Duterte Withdraw his The decision to terminate an important defense agreement may anger an increasingly warlike China.

DuterteThe Secretary of Defense announced the decision on Friday Delphine Lorenzana At a joint press conference with visiting American counterpart Lloyd Austin in Manila. The Philippine leader made an amazing vow to keep his distance from Washington early in his term as he tried to rebuild tense relations with China amidst the territorial rift in the South China Sea for many years.

“The President decides to recall or withdraw the VFA’s termination letter,” Lorenzana After an hour-long meeting with Austin, he told reporters that the visit to the troops agreement was mentioned. “There is no termination letter pending, and we are back on track.”

Austin thanked Duterte for his decision, he Said it would further consolidate the 70-year treaty alliance between the two countries.

“Our country faces a series of challenges, from the climate crisis to the pandemic. As we have done, a strong and resilient U.S.-Philippines alliance remains vital to the security, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.” Austin said. “The fully restored VFA will help us achieve this goal together.”

Terminating the agreement will deal a major blow to the United States’ oldest alliance in Asia, because Washington stands with Beijing on a series of issues, including trade, human rights, and China’s actions in the South China Sea. Beijing has almost all sovereignty over the South China Sea.

The U.S. military presence in the region is seen as a check and balance against China, and China uses force to make claims against the disputed vast area of ​​the South China Sea, including the construction of artificial islands equipped with airstrips and military installations. China ignored and continues to ignore an international arbitration award in 2016 that invalidated its historical basis.

China, Filipino, Vietnam and the other three governments have been stuck in territorial stalemate for decades. The United States did not make any claims on this busy waterway. Instead, it challenged Beijing by bringing naval warships close to the islands claimed by China in the so-called freedom of navigation operation.

Beijing has warned Washington to stay away from what it calls a purely Asian dispute.

In a speech in Singapore on Tuesday, Austin stated that Beijing’s claims on the South China Sea “have no basis in international law” and “trample the sovereignty of countries in the region”. He said that the United States supports coastal countries in the region in safeguarding the rights granted by international law and is committed to fulfilling its defense treaty obligations with Japan and Japan. Filipino.

Duterte In February last year, the U.S. government was notified, Filipino The aim was to repeal the 1998 agreement, which allowed a large number of US troops to participate in combat training with the Philippine military and set legal provisions for their temporary stay.

The termination of the agreement will take effect after 180 days, but Duterte has repeatedly postponed the decision. While pending, the U.S. and Philippine military continued to develop plans for combat and disaster response exercises, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, larger-scale exercises were cancelled last year.

The US and Philippine armies conduct approximately 300 activities each year, including “Balikatan” or “side-by-side” exercises, which involve land, sea, and air exercises involving thousands of soldiers, often including live fire. When they were imprisoned on the edge of the waters that Beijing claimed to be themselves, they sparked protests in China.

The Balikatan exercise resumed in April last year, but it was significantly reduced due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown.

A Philippine military official told the Associated Press that despite Duterte’s earlier threats to abolish the VFA, the United States continued to provide intelligence on China’s activities in the South China Sea and satellite and aircraft surveillance photos.The image of the United States helps Filipino The military official said that to be aware of the violations and make a diplomatic protest, he declined to be named because he did not have the right to speak publicly.

Lorenzana Say he I don’t know why Duterte changed his mind. The reckless president has been under tremendous pressure to control one of the worst outbreaks in Southeast Asia. He warned in December that he If the United States does not provide at least 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, VFA will continue to be abolished.

“Without a vaccine, you can’t stay here,” Duterte said bluntly at the time, and a Philippine senator said, “It may give the impression that Filipino It is a country of blackmailers. “

Filipino Recently, at least 3.2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine have been received from the United States through the COVAX Global Vaccine Sharing Program, and more US assistance has been guaranteed. President Joe Biden has stated that US vaccines are donated to poorer countries to save lives and “does not include pressure for concessions or potential concessions.”

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