Why Rodrigo Duterte wants US troops out of the Philippines

Philippines' president Rodrigo Duterte says that he wants US troops gone within the next two years, but he says that he does not seek to sever ties with the United States.

Romeo Ranoco/Reuters
Indigenous people and activists march towards the US embassy during a protest to demand the withdrawal of US troops in the Philippines and in support of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's foreign policy, in metro Manila, Philippines, Thursday. The banner reads: 'End the reign of Imperialism! Fight for the right to self-determination.'

Is US military presence in the Philippines coming to an end?

While on a political visit to Japan, President Rodrigo Duterte stated that he will end military exercises between the Philippines and the United States. If Mr. Duterte follows through on such a promise, analysts say, it could further complicate the historically close Philippines-US relations – and throw a wrench into US geopolitical goals in the Pacific.

"I want, maybe in the next two years, my country free of the presence of foreign military troops,” Duterte said in a news conference. "I want them out. If I have to revise or abrogate agreements, I will.”

In the six months since he took office, Duterte has drastically shifted his country’s foreign policy, both in tone and action. For decades, the Philippines were the US’ closest allies in the Pacific. But Duterte has shown little interest in maintaining that legacy: When his extrajudicial campaign against drug dealers drew US criticism, he told President Obama to “go to hell.”

Meanwhile, Duterte has sought friendships with other world powers. While visiting China earlier this month, he told Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua that he wanted the Philippines “to be a part of the greater plans of China about the whole of Asia.” Under such a lucrative alliance, Duterte could deliver on promises of improved infrastructure.

Despite seeking military and economic independence, Duterte has stated that the Philippines won’t end diplomatic relations with the United States. But a military breakup may still present issues, since US presence in the Philippines was meant to counterbalance to China’s growing power.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Ford reported:

The Philippines has been in the front line of resistance to Beijing’s claim to most of the South China Sea. Manila even won an international arbitration case last June, asserting its rights to a number of islands in the face of Chinese pretensions.

But since becoming President, Mr. Duterte has laid aside that trump card and sought China’s friendship, while questioning the value of his country’s 65-year-old alliance with the United States.

Ideologically speaking, some experts say, the separation may not be such a bad thing. Diplomacy isn’t a zero-sum game, said Susan Shirk, a top official in the Clinton administration. In other words, the Philippines can and should play nice with its neighbors.

“If China is able to stabilize relations with its neighbors that is good for the US. We are not in the kind of geopolitical rivalry where if China has friends, that’s bad for us,” Shirk told the Monitor.

Other analysts note that a waning Western influence isn’t necessarily a problem. The Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi reported:

The US and Europe are less willing to intervene when other parts of the world are unable to respond effectively to conflicts and other global challenges. That has meant a decline in Western influence.

Yet as downbeat as that may sound, it also has a positive side: A decline of dependence. And, broadly speaking, the emerging multipolar global order is largely based on the principles that the West espoused....

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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