Philippines, US in talks to resume ‘2-plus-2 meeting’ as relations thaw

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel J. Kritenbrink reassured Philippines that the US would come to its defence. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The United States and the Philippines have pledged to hold “2-plus-2“ meetings of their top officials after a seven-year halt, underlining moves to restore ties strained by former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-American stance.

The two nations held a security dialogue on Friday and agreed to work towards resuming talks between their diplomatic and defence chiefs, which a Philippine official said could be in the first half of 2023, in Washington.

The US and the Philippines are bound by a seven-decade-old Mutual Defence Treaty and various agreements that enable thousands of US troops to conduct joint exercises in the Philippines, including live fire drills, amphibious assaults and counter-terrorism drills.

Those came under threat repeatedly in the past six years after Mr Duterte angrily vowed to withdraw from the security agreements, citing his mistrust and disdain for US foreign policy and intent to be closer with China.

After Friday’s dialogue, Mr Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, sought to reassure the Philippines that the US would come to its defence if under attack.

“Our ironclad alliance between the United States and the Philippines has contributed to the stability of the Indo-Pacific region for more than 75 years and will only grow in importance in the coming years,” Mr Kritenbrink told reporters.

The Philippines, a former US colony, is among several countries at odds with China over its conduct in the South China Sea, with Manila furious over the constant presence of vessels in its exclusive economic zone that it says are manned by Chinese militia.

Mr Duterte’s administration had expressed doubts that the US would come to the Philippines’ defence in a future confrontation at sea with China’s military.

The Philippines’ ambassador to Washington, Mr Jose Manuel Romualdez, earlier on Friday confirmed in a text message the two countries were working to hold “2-plus-2“ talks as early as March.

Asked what changed since the departure of Mr Duterte - under whom he served - and the arrival of Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr as president, he said “US-Philippine relations is on an even keel, more coordinated”.

Since Mr Marcos took office in 2022 after a landslide election win, several top US officials, including Vice-President Kamala Harris, have visited the Philippines to shore up ties, and discourage aggressive steps by China in the South China Sea and against self-ruled Taiwan. REUTERS

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