Philippines defence minister says US treaty needs comprehensive review

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Wednesday (Sept 8) there was a need for a comprehensive review of his country’s alliance with the United States.

At an online event hosted by Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies marking the 70th anniversary of the countries’ mutual defence treaty (MDT), Mr Lorenzana said there was a need to “upgrade” and “update” the alliance and to make clear the “extent of American commitments”.

“Some questions being asked in Manila are, do we still need the MDT? Should we amend it?” he said, referring to the pact signed in 1951. “What is clear is that we need a comprehensive review of our alliance.”

Mr Lorenzana said the US treaty with Japan, its World War Two enemy, was more explicit than that with the Philippines when it came to determining whether it applied in the Pacific maritime area, where the Philippines has come under increasing pressure from China over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea.

He said this explained why seven out of 10 Filipinos supported President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for engagement with China rather than confrontation and more than half doubted US reliability as an ally in South China Sea disputes.

Mr Lorenzana said US-Philippines relations would “have to evolve in recognition of new geopolitical realities, most especially the rise of China”.

His remarks came after Mr Duterte in July restored a pact governing the movement of US troops in and out of the country, something strategically vital for American efforts to counter China.

Mr Duterte had vowed to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement after Washington denied a visa to a Philippine senator who is an ally of the president.

For the United States, having the ability to rotate in troops is important not only for the defence of the Philippines, but strategically when it comes to countering China’s assertive behaviour in the region.

In July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated a warning to China that an attack on Philippine armed forces in the South China Sea would trigger the mutual defence treaty.

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