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Asia's Game of Thrones
U.S. Defense Pact Intact, Says Philippines

Manila has confirmed that U.S. plans to upgrade its military presence in the Philippines are still on track, despite the blustery rhetoric of President Duterte that has thrown bilateral military cooperation into question. Reuters:

The United States will upgrade and build facilities on Philippine military bases this year, Manila’s defense minister said on Thursday, bolstering an alliance strained by President Rodrigo Duterte’s opposition to a U.S. troop presence.

The Pentagon gave the green light to start the work as part of an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a 2014 pact that Duterte has threatened to scrap during barrages of hostility towards the former colonial power.

“EDCA is still on,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a news conference. […]

Lorenzana said Washington had committed to build warehouses, barracks and runways in the five agreed locations and Duterte was aware of projects and had promised to honor all existing agreements with the United States.

As we have noted before, there has consistently been some daylight between Duterte, who has threatened to scrap the EDCA and kick American troops out of the country, and Lorenzana, who has repeatedly reassured the U.S. about existing security arrangements. The latest news suggests that Duterte has been made to back off a little.

While the news comes as an encouraging sign after months of Duterte publicly disparaging the American alliance, it is still unclear how the Philippines will play into the Trump administration’s posture in Asia. On the one hand, President Trump has taken a tough line on China’s activity in the South China Sea and vowed a massive naval buildup. If Trump hopes to project American power in the Pacific and deter China, the Philippines will be an essential staging ground to do so—and the EDCA, with its provisions for expanded rotational deployments and access to Philippine military bases, will certainly play into such a strategy.

On the other hand, Trump has consistently cast scorn on free-riding allies and U.S. security alliances that require extensive American commitments. Under Trump, the EDCA could plausibly come under attack along those lines, especially if relations with Manila sour. Despite the warm words exchanged between Trump and Duterte, some fault lines are beginning to emerge. The Philippines has already expressed concern about Trump’s confrontational tone toward China, for example, and is wary of being dragged into a proxy conflict in the South China Sea.

It is still too early to know how Trump plans to square this circle and repair relations with the Philippines while standing up to China. But the latest news from Manila at least suggests that bilateral defense ties have deeper roots than Duterte’s rhetoric would suggest.

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  • Dhako

    This is a desperate stuff from the TIA’s folks. In fact, it reads as if anything this defense minister who seems to be “free-lancing” of his own way, is what the TAI’s strategical theoreticians are cleaving to for all it’s worth. Hence every nuggets he says gets to be magnify around here as if he speaks for the president, even if it’s clear that President Duterte has made it clear (to all of those who care to listen to him) that he made his “strategical bed” in so far as which side he is “leaning” on (or “tilting” on) when it comes to this Pacific-Rim’s Geo-Strategical competition, which is putting China and US on the opposite side of this “defining struggle”. Of course, as I said earlier, there are Filipino’s generals (and various old establishment types) who are not too keen on this change of strategical direction on the part of President Duterte. And, admittedly, they are doing their level best to “send” mixed signals about what is going on. And, in that sense, this defense minister is effectively given voice to that “political constituency” which was so long in bed with the American’s defense establishment, that, in effect, he is in open revolt about the agenda of his new president.

    Hence, I suspect, that, once, Mr Duterte gets on top of the other domestic issue, such as his declared policy of fighting against drug-dealers and the mafia-like folks who are flooding his nations with this deadly stuff, that, he will turn around and clear from his administration from these old “hold-out-folks”, who are basically his political opponents but instead of being outside of “political tent” (as it were), are in fact inside the tent and are pissing on his “turf” within his tent, and still pretending that they are one with his agenda. So, from larger perspective, his taking his “political fight” one at the time. And, in that sense, lets hope, that the folks in the US’s pentagon won’t bet the ranch on these minister and his “shadowy groups” in the old establishment holding a tight leash on President Duterte, when it comes him (and his nation) remaining the favorite SOB character who will do the bidding of Uncle Sam in south East Asia. And, in fact, this “honoring” agreement on the part of Duterte is essentially his way of “paying-off” a local constituency who will make money from sub-contracting the building of these facilities, but it says nothing of a larger strategical re-alignment on his part in with the US’s agenda in that part of the world. And I gather soon you will find out.

    • Psalms564

      Oh no!!!! You suffered a relapse. 5 paragraphs!!! That’s sad, you were doing so well….

      • rheddles

        Originally it was two paragraphs. I wonder if he’s got an editor?

      • Dhako

        There used to be a fellow around here (his name escapes me now) who used to shadow me around. And after a while, I suggest to him that, perhaps, he needs to spends some quality time with Homer Simpson weekly cartoons. Given, that in that way, he spare both us the indignity of crossing path, when, clearly, one of us could have his fill of intellectual discourse from the perch of holding everything Mr Simpson says as the objective of reality.

        Similarly, I was kind of wondering, at least in your case, whether you will not be averse to the thought of me wondering aloud if there is some village out there (particularly in Trumpland sort of village) who seems to have lost its entertaining village’s idiots, who for all they could know, have decided to take his chance and come to watch his “hero’s inauguration day” back in last week, and then, was never seen again. Hence, if, as friends, you have no objection to me advertising your presence with us in here in TAI, then, I may do you the inestimable favor of taking an advert-page from the places like Breitbart, just so that your kin-and-kith back in that village, will finally get back their village’s idiot, in one piece. Let me know how you will roll with this suggestion of mine.

        • Psalms564

          Didn’t read it again, too long. Come on man, you were doing so goddamn good. What happened? Sigh….
          Well, let’s hope your brevity returns.

  • rheddles

    Comments disappear?

  • Fat_Man

    I still want to see Duterte and Trump get into a Twitter flame war.

    • Jim__L

      A new form of cyber warfare?

      Your idea is comedy gold, by the way. I would love to see The Onion take that and run with it…

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