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Tue Feb 18, 2020, 02:19 PM

One of the most important U.S. alliances in Asia has been endangered

One of the oldest and most important U.S. alliances in Asia, with the Philippines, has been endangered, along with the U.S. capacity to check China’s attempt to dominate the South China Sea, thanks to a decision by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that could fairly be described as Trumpian.

Against the advice of his top aides, and on the basis of what amounts to a personal grievance, Mr. Duterte last week ordered the termination of a crucial military agreement with the United States. The 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) allows U.S. troops to smoothly rotate forces in and out of the country, which in turn has made possible the some 300 joint exercises the two countries’ armed forces conduct annually. Those include joint patrols in parts of the South China Sea where Chinese ships have made incursions in Philippine territorial waters.

If the agreement is indeed discarded after a required 180-day delay, the two other pacts that form the foundation of the alliance between Washington and its former colony — the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement — could be neutered. The U.S. commitment to defend the archipelago from external aggression would become a dead letter, handing China a strategic windfall.

Mr. Duterte, a populist with little respect for the rule of law, has been drifting for several years toward a break with the United States and an embrace of China. But what triggered his action was not a strategic calculation of Philippine interests but rage over the State Department’s cancellation of the U.S. visa of one of his unsavory cronies, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.


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