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WhyItMatters

Duterte's noise about US ties

When it comes to the United States, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte does not mince his words.

In pronouncements often laced with expletives, he has told the Americans they can leave if they won't stop criticising the thousands of extrajudicial killings that have blighted his anti-crime drive.

He told them he can always turn to China, or even Russia, for arms and money. Mr Duterte has said he does not want to cut "our umbilical cord to countries we are allied with". Lately, though, all he has done is run scissors through that cord.

Last month, he said he wanted US special forces operating against terrorists in southern Philippines to leave. He then ordered the Philippine navy to stop joining patrols with US forces in the South China Sea.


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his speech at the Beit Yaacov Synagogue, The Jewish Association of the Philippines. PHOTO: REUTERS

Last week, he announced that this month's joint military exercises will be the last while he is president - although his defence minister later clarified that it is still being reviewed.

 
 

Mr Duterte then threatened to scrap a 2014 defence pact that allowed the US to use at least eight Philippine military bases.

For now, it's all just chest-thumping. But if he carries out his threats, Asia will reel from the impact.

Because of its location and history, the Philippines is central to US efforts to check China's expansion in the region. It has been the fence that has prevented China from controlling 90 per cent of the South China Sea.

The Philippines is also at the front line in the war on terror, as its troubled south has become a safe haven for militants fleeing Syria, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia and other hot spots.

US assistance has been key in keeping these terrorists at bay. Mr Duterte is threatening to end these arrangements. But his aides have signalled that it is mostly noise, and nothing yet is set in stone.

The world can take comfort in that.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte's noise about US ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe