ANALYSIS - China To Benefit Most From Duterte's Attempt To Outplay Trump By Scraping Military Pact

ANALYSIS - China to Benefit Most From Duterte's Attempt to Outplay Trump by Scraping Military Pact

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 14th February, 2020) OSCOW, February 13 (Sputnik), Valentina Shvartsman - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, by scrapping a security pact with the United States, is trying to outrun US President Donald Trump in getting better deals, but the fallout between the two nations will only play into the hands of China, which is currently boosting its regional influence, experts told Sputnik.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Tuesday that his country had notified the United States of its intent to terminate the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows US troops to stay in the country. The United States has six months to end activities permitted under the accord.

The move by the Philippines is the latest in a series of tit-for-tat measures that started when the United States denied visas to Philippine politicians over Manila's detention of human rights lawyer and politician Leila de Lima. In response, the Philippine government said it was ready to impose strict visa regulations on US politicians. Duterte banned his cabinet from traveling to the US and declined an invitation to the upcoming US-ASEAN summit in Las Vegas.

According to Inderjeet Parmar, a professor of international politics at City, University of London, the decision to scrap the decades-old pact may be Duterte's attempt to challenge Trump in the art of the deal making.

"Duterte is flexing his muscles and trying to secure a better deal on hi-tech US weapons which, he says, the US does not supply to the Philippines' military ... Duterte is trying to 'out-Trump' Trump in trying to get a better deal by reminding the USA that they need him and the Philippines; but also reflects new geopolitical and economic realities in the region China is becoming more influential and most states in the region need to navigate that while managing the US as well," Parmar said in his comments to Sputnik.

The expert suggested that the Philippine leader was also looking to secure benefits from Beijing.

"He's trying to manage better relations with China too, especially in getting foreign investment to the Mindanao islands. China may also capitalize and supply drones, etc. to Duterte regime," Parmar said, adding that China's rise also offered the Philippines leverage in the matter.

Patricio Abinales, a professor at the school of Pacific and Asian Studies of the University of Hawaii-Manoa, in turn, told Sputnik that the move conformed to Duterte's consistent "nationalist leanings."

"During his presidential campaign, for example, he would repeatedly remind the audience of the story of a central Philippine chieftain who defied and killed Ferdinand Magellan in 1561, describing him as the first Filipino hero.

Duterte would also repeatedly mention the massacre of Muslims by the U.S. Army on June 15, 1913, as evidence of American perfidy," he said.

The expert went on to say that while Duterte believed Manila had nothing to lose with the VFA's termination, it would be "a boon" to China.

"Now, the US will have to go on its own in its tense engagement with China, and its standing in the region in terms of regional security can be compromised if the Philippines end military ties. This would be a major victory for China since, given the long history of US-Philippine relationship, this is one of the ones assumed as a given in the region," Abinales said.

He asserted that the United States could try to counter China's growing influence by turning to Beijing's other contenders in the region, Vietnam and Indonesia, after its pact with Manila ends, butadded that those were new ties with less "symbolic power" than the US-Philippines relationship.

Trump himself told reporters on Wednesday that he did not mind if the Philippines followed through with terminating the pact, saying that it would help the US to "save a lot of money."

Speaking about the prospects for talks on a new deal, Abinales said there would be a poor chance of the two countries renegotiating the agreement under their current respective presidents.

"I think it will be up to the next Philippine president to give renegotiating a treaty a try. Trump has completely reversed President Obama's 'Pivot to the Pacific' foreign policy, and will just leave things be, especially if this would mean getting China to agree to more changes in the tariff and trade policies of the two countries," the expert explained.

Parmar, on the other hand, did not rule out a new deal that would give Duterte the weapons he wanted so badly while also boost Trump's image ahead of this year's US presidential race.

"I suspect there will not be a radical break with the US but a loosening under a new agreement which might include more and better weapons ... Duterte will have seen how much Trump admires 'strongmen' and wants to be a global statesman, at least in terms of image. He may be offering Trump a political gift in the run up to November 2020," he said.

For decades, China and the Philippines have been in dispute over the Spratly islets in the South China Sea, a major shipping route and home to fishing grounds that is also potentially rich in gas and oil. The Scarborough Shoal, another contested islet, is claimed by China, the Philippines and Taiwan.

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