Philippines Tell US to Take a Hike

Rouelle Umali/Xinhua via ZUMA

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Is this interesting or not?

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the U.S. Tuesday that he was scrapping a 2-decade-old defense agreement, throwing one of Washington’s most important security alliances in Asia into disarray.

….The Pentagon sees its relationship with the Philippines as a bulwark against China’s growing military ambitions in Southeast Asia. Beijing has built naval installations in the contested waters of the South China Sea and expanded security cooperation with authoritarian governments in Thailand and Cambodia, among other countries.

“The American and Filipino defense establishments will be working frantically to prevent VFA expiration by trying to convince their respective leaders of its value,” said Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp. “Without the VFA, countering China in the South China Sea and conducting combined counter-terrorism missions in the southern Philippines will be virtually impossible.”

I vote for “interesting,” partly because this comes out of the blue to those of us who haven’t followed this dispute closely. This means that I don’t know what to think about it. Is there a liberal party line on relations with the Philippines? A conservative party line? A neocon party line? A Trumpist party line?

I don’t know, but it’s all part of a tightrope the US can’t walk forever. We want to maintain a serious military and diplomatic influence in southeast Asia, but it’s pretty obvious to everyone involved that China is the preeminent power in the region—if not quite now, then certainly in the very near future. Not only is the US obviously farther away and preoccupied with other problems, but President Trump’s attitude toward mutual defense treaties is making China look even more dominant. There’s a price to be paid for crossing China, while Trump is actively pushing back on maintaining treaty obligations. To resurrect a hoary old cliche, will the Philippines be the first domino to fall in an inevitable loss of US influence in Asia?

Alternatively, of course, Duterte is just bluffing and everything will work out fine over the next couple of months. Maybe this is just a routine nothingburger. Wait and see.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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