Duterte's Confrontational Rhetoric Threatens US Asia Pivot

Sputnik News

19:29 26.10.2016(updated 19:34 26.10.2016)

President Rodrigo Duterte has called for all US troops to leave the Philippines within "the next two years."

The comments are the latest in a series of anti-American tirades by the new world leader. Duterte also suggested he wants to tear up an integral US-Philippines defense agreement, which allows the US to operate military bases in the Pacific nation, in what would be a significant blow to American foreign policy.

President Rodrigo Duterte, continues to confound and unsettle political leaders across the world.

In a highly publicized visit to China last week, Duterte said hew wanted "a separation" from its decades-long ally, the US.

The controversial remarks were quickly rowed back on by Filipino officials. However, on Wednesday, October 26, remarks made on an official visit to Japan have added to the confusion in the minds of Chinese, Japanese and American policy makers.

Speaking at a business forum in Tokyo, President Rodrigo Duterte said:

"I want, maybe in the next two years, my country free of the presence of foreign military troops. I want them out!"

This latest anti-American statement by the 71-year-old firebrand, should be cause for serious concern in the US.

In 2014, Mr. Duterte's predecessor, President Benigno Aquino III, signed an agreement with the US to let the Pentagon use five Philippine military bases. The pact is a key pillar of the Obama administration's so called "pivot to Asia" to bolster US influence in the region.

If Duterte intends to rip up the accord, the US could be left scrambling to readjust its security strategy.

President Duterte also repeated a recent assertion that he would withdraw from any further joint military exercises with the US.

"This will be the last maneuver, war games, between the United States and the Philippine military."

It's not yet clear if Duterte's remarks are a genuine indication of policy, or merely saber-rattling from a man increasingly infamous for colorful and offensive remarks.

If they are the former, the geopolitical situation in Asia could be altered dramatically.

The Philippines is one of the oldest US allies on the continent and has long been seen as within the US sphere of influence. As such, US officials used to rely on the Philippines as an important counterweight to the influence of China, whose growing power is alarming the US and several regional neighbors, such as Japan.

At stake is influence over the lucrative South China Sea trading routes. China and Japan dispute sovereignty over parts of the sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Also laying claim to the South China Sea are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. China has sought to bolster its claim by constructing man-made islands, and then deploying its military to defend them.

Such actions have aggravated its neighbors. In April this year, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, accused China of making the world "worried." That was before the Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in May.

Now it's the Filipino President's words that are destabilizing the region. Even the Chinese have been left scrambling to understand exactly what Mr. Duterte's foreign policy intentions are.

When Duterte was in China mid-November, he assured the Chinese of firm solidarity and of his wish to be "closer to China."

In Japan on Wednesday, Duterte insisted that his Chinese visit was just about economics, not politics, calling Japan "a special friend who is closer than a brother."

Going further, he said the Philippines would work towards the peaceful settlement of disputes, including in the South China Sea, a political fault line for Beijing.

Such volatile political flip-flopping is exasperating diplomatic officials around the world.

At a press briefing, US State Department spokesman Josh Kirby said the US was "not going to react and respond to every bit of rhetoric" from President Duterte.

"We're going to continue to work at this relationship. We're going to continue to meet our obligations under the defence treaty."


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