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South China sea issues pushed Philippine U-turn on US troop pact

AFP
Manila
Security issues in the disputed South China Sea helped convince the Philippines to delay quitting a key US military pact, the nation’s envoy to Washington said Wednesday.
The government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced Tuesday it had suspended plans to cancel the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a deal that is important to Washington’s moves to counter Beijing’s rising regional power.
Duterte has cosied up to China in search of trade and investment, sparking US concern that its long-time ally and former colony would change sides in a strategic boost to Beijing.
“Because of security issues... in that part of the world (South China Sea), both our governments have seen it would be prudent for us to simply suspend any implementation of the termination,” Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez told ANC news channel. Since taking power in 2016 Duterte has moved closer to Beijing, but has faced push back from the Philippine public and concern in the military wary of its territorial ambitions in the disputed South China Sea.
Billions in trade pass through the strategic waterway and it is thought to contain rich petroleum deposits, making it a frequent source of regional tension. Philippine analyst Richard Heydarian said the VFA reversal showed Duterte had to decide between an aggressive China and an historically helpful ally.
“This is not the time to initiate an ugly divorce, especially when China is spreading its tentacles everywhere,” he said.

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