The clock is ticking on America’s military presence in the Philippines, if you believe President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest remarks. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Friday that he would remove U.S. troops from the country by the end of his term in 2022 and not replace them with any other foreign troops, as he moves closer to China and Russia while crafting a more independent foreign policy.
It was the first time Mr. Duterte had set a date for the removal of U.S. troops, which he called for in September. He also said he wanted to stop the joint war games the Philippine military holds with its allies, but that the exercises scheduled next year with the U.S. could go ahead in a truncated format that focuses on humanitarian, antiterror and antidrug operations. Those, however, would be the last, he said.
“By the time I end my term, I do not want to see any—not only the U.S. but even African or Chinese or whatever—I do not want to see foreign military troops in my country,” Mr. Duterte said after returning to Manila before dawn Friday from a trip to Malaysia.
His remarks on refocusing next year’s military exercises on humanitarian operations coincide with his defense minister’s pronouncements last week. Duterte, who dramatically announced a “separation” from the U.S. during his visit to China, has offered shifting explanations on how we will redefine the relationship, with his subordinates often walking back his more incendiary comments. He previously suggested that foreign troops might leave as soon as 2018.
Duterte’s anti-Americanism and embrace of China has been a major blow to the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia. It remains to be seen what tack Donald Trump will take with Duterte. Both men share a penchant for unpredictability and off-the-cuff remarks, and Duterte congratulated Trump’s election this week while insisting that his policy toward the U.S. would not change. Expect more twists and turns to come.