UPDATE 1-Philippines' Duterte U-turns on scrapping of U.S. troop deal

UPDATE 1-Philippines' Duterte U-turns on scrapping of U.S. troop deal

Reuters  | Jun 02, 2020 22:10

UPDATE 1-Philippines' Duterte U-turns on scrapping of U.S. troop deal

(Recasts, adds details throughout)
By Karen Lema
MANILA, June 2 (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo
Duterte has suspended his decision to scrap a two-decade-old
troop deployment agreement with the United States due to
political and other developments in the region, his foreign
minister said on Tuesday,
The termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),
which is central to one of Washington's most important alliances
in Asia, was due to take effect in August and was Duterte's
biggest move yet towards delivering on longstanding threats to
downgrade ties with the Philippines' former colonial ruler.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the news that the
Philippines was no longer abandoning the pact was well received
by the United States.
The mercurial Duterte, known for his stinging rebukes of
Western powers, has clashed with Washington over numerous issues
and has been open about his disdain for his country's most
important diplomatic ally and main provider of military hardware
and training.
His embrace of historic rival China, a country deeply
mistrusted by his U.S.-allied defence apparatus, has attracted
considerable criticism, with opponents accusing him of gambling
with sovereignty in pursuit of massive investments that have not
materialized.
The VFA provides the legal framework for which U.S. troops
can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines and experts
say without it, their other bilateral defence agreements cannot
be implemented.
Duterte pulled the plug on the VFA on Feb. 11 in an angry
response to the revocation of a U.S. visa held by a former
police chief-turned-senator who led his war on drugs.
The official reason for Duterte's withdrawal was to enable
the Philippines to diversify its foreign relations.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila welcomed the suspension.
"Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries,
and we look forward to continued close security and defense
cooperation with the Philippines," it said.
Critics had said the suspension was a knee-jerk reaction
that would weaken the Philippine military, denying it access to
scores of annual training exercises, including expertise in
tackling Islamist militants, natural disasters and maritime
threats.
The official notice of the suspension said the decision was
taken "in light of political and other developments in the
region". It did not specify what those were.

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