Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will travel to Beijing later this month on a trip that could trigger a redrawing of alliances in East Asia. As Duterte continues courting some of Washington’s biggest rivals, the ties between The Philippines and the United States are increasingly at risk.
This is significant due to the fact that The Philippines was one of the pillars of the Obama Administration’s pivot to Asia in 2011. As a result, military assistance and foreign aid sent to Manila from Washington in recent years has been substantial. In 2015, the Philippines received approximately $175 million in U.S. development assistance, and a total of $50 million in foreign military financing.
In early 2016, it was announced that The Philippines will get its biggest US aid package in 15 years to help the country beef up its ill-equipped military. The Philippine Ambassador to the United States, Jose Cuisia, said that The Philippines will get more than US$120 million in military aid 2016, almost double the amount Washington normally extends each year.
Of the total amount, US$79 million will be traditional military aid, with an additional US$42 million coming from the new US Southeast Asia Maritime Initiative, a maritime capacity-building program launched by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Additionally, The Philippines has purchased nearly $1 billion worth of military equipment from the US since 2012 including two US Coast Guard cutters, and 12 FA-50 light fighter jets.
Secretary Carter also announced in April another military deal that gave the U.S. access to five Philippine military bases to house American forces that will rotate in and out of the country for training and other missions. The bases included Antonio Bautista Air Base, Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia Air Base, and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base. However, this could all be set to change.
Last week, Duterte said that joint military exercises of Filipino and American troops scheduled for the first week in October in The Philippines will be the last such drills. While in Hawaii to meet with Southeast Asian defense ministers last Friday 30 September, Secretary Carter hinted at growing U.S. impatience with Duterte’s recent proclamations, “Just speaking personally for myself, I find these comments deeply troubling.”
Gregory Poling, a fellow with the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic Studies echoed similar concerns stating that, “If he followed through on this pledge, it would be devastating to alliance management.”
Looking ahead to later this month, it is believed that Duterte’s talks with both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on 19-21 October could lead to substantial capital inflows from regional economic powerhouse China. Over two-dozen Filipino businessmen are expected to join the delegation in an attempt broker new investments, a sign that sovereignty squabbles are being set aside in favor of potentially lucrative commercial deals. It remains to be seen such a pivot might impact the relationship between The Philippines and the United States.