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US-Philippines “Balikatan” military drills to conclude


US-Philippines “Balikatan” military drills to conclude

Photo: AP

The two-week joint US-Philippines “Balikatan” military drills conclude today, amidst increased tensions between Beijing and Manila.

The drills come following the appearance of nearly 220 suspected Chinese maritime militias in Whitsun Reef, within the Philippines’ South China Sea (SCS) Exclusive Economic Zone as arbitrated by the Hague in 2016. China’s latest move to assert its sovereignty over the SCS has prompted the cabinet of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte—known for his conciliatory approach toward China—to speak out against Beijing for the first time in five years.

China’s assertive maritime policy has highlighted the need for Manila and Washington’s strategic partnership. For the US, the Philippines’ strategic location is crucial in securing access to the SCS–the bulwark of the new administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

As hinted by the military exercise which concludes today, continued defense cooperation is likely to shape the state of US-Philippine relations in the short- to medium-term. To this end, expect Duterte to combat Chinese expansionism by extending an agreement he long opposed to allow for a US military presence on the archipelago.  Regardless, US-Philippine relations will likely remain strained, not only due to Duterte’s lack of reliability as an ally, but also his egregious human rights record.

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