Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin Jr. In a statement Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte decided to keep the Visiting Force Agreement (VFA) “in light of the political and other developments in the region”.
The agreement, signed in 1988, gives US military aircraft and ships free access to the Philippines and eases visa restrictions for US military personnel.
“Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continuing close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.
The Philippines was once home to two of America’s largest military bases outside the United States: Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Station.
Although it ceased to be a US base in the early 1990s, US forces were still able to access them under VFA and maintained their strong military ties with Manila Washington.
But for the past few years, Duterte has been moving away from historical ties to China, which has offered a closer economic relationship with the US and Manila.
“I need China. At this point I need China more than anyone else,” said Duterte before flying to China in April 2018.
Compared to its predecessors, Duterte saw the Philippines’ ongoing regional dispute over the South China Sea as more controversial.
Both the Philippines and China are among the few countries with overlapping claims regarding the sea or some parts of it. China claims almost 1.3 million square miles of the South China Sea on its own, despite other claimants with much closer borders to controversial waters.
However, China is increasing its military presence on the islands claimed by Manila.
In the past two months, the People’s Liberation Army carried advanced anti-submarine combat and reconnaissance aircraft to the Fiery Cross Reef, known as Kagitingan in the Philippines in the Spratly Islands chain.
Beijing also made Fiery Cross part of the southern province of Hainan and created two new administrative districts in the Paracel Islands, another island group covering the South China Sea and with controversial claims.
According to the satellite analysis of AMTI published in March, Philippine was around an average of 18 Chinese ships on the island every day, which prevented attempts to build infrastructure there.
On Wednesday, Locsin stated that the Philippines saw the United States playing a role in the region for a while.
“We look forward to maintaining our strong military partnership with the United States, even though we continue to reach our regional allies in establishing a common defense for lasting stability, peace and constant economic progress and prosperity among the world’s allies,” I said.
CNN’s Sophie Jeong contributed to this report.
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