Rodrigo Duterte
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Philippine soldiers and a US army soldier take their positions after disembarking from a C-47 Chinook helicopter during an air assault exercise in Nueva Ecija province north of Manila in April last year. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesdat he will soon end joint military exercises with the United States. Photo: AFP

Duterte sparks confusion with vow to scrap future US-Philippines war games, citing China’s opposition

Philippines president announces that next week’s military drills will be the last with US troops, but his foreign secretary says the 2017 games will go ahead

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sparked confusion with an announcement that joint military exercises involving Filipino and American troops next week would be the last such drills.

His position was swiftly contradicted by his foreign minister, Perfecto Yasay, who said that the 2017 drills had already been agreed and would go ahead. From 2018 onwards, the drills would be reviewed, Yasay said.

Duterte had told the Filipino community in Hanoi late Wednesday night that he will maintain the military alliance with the US because of the countries’ 1951 defence treaty. But he added that next week’s exercises will proceed only because he did not want to embarrass his defence secretary.

Duterte said during a two-day visit to meet Vietnam’s leaders that he wants to establish new trade and commercial alliances with China and Russia, and that the war games were something Beijing does not want.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Monument of National Heroes and Martyrs in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

“I would serve notice to you now that this will be the last military exercise,” he said. “Jointly, Philippines-US, the last one.”

“I will maintain the military alliance because there is an RP-US pact which our countries signed in the early ’50s,” he said, referring to the Republic of the Philippines. “I will establish new alliances for trade and commerce and you are scheduled to hold war games again, which China does not want.”

But Yasay yesterday appeared to contradict his boss' timeline, and said only that the games would be reviewed in future, not necessarily cancelled.

He said the Philippines did not want a military ally and instead wished to be friends with all countries, and alienate none, and that would be how it would settle disputes in the South China Sea.

Duterte has had an uneasy relationship with the United States since he won a presidential election in May. He says he is charting a foreign policy not dependent on the US, and has taken steps to revive ties with China, which had been strained under his predecessor over longstanding territorial conflicts in the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, he said he would not allow government forces to conduct joint patrols of disputed waters near the South China Sea with foreign powers, apparently scrapping a deal his predecessor reached with the US military earlier this year.

He has said he wants US military forces out of the southern Philippines and blamed America for inflaming local Muslim insurgencies there.

Duterte has said he was considering acquiring military equipment from Russia and China.

Additional reporting by Reuters

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Duterte vows to scrap future war games with US