U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while meeting with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday brushed aside the decision of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to end a decades-old military agreement with United States, saying he didn’t really mind and it would save money.
Duterte announced the termination of the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) on Tuesday, a move U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper called “unfortunate.” The decision will take effect in 180 days. Asked whether he would try to persuade Duterte to reconsider, Trump told reporters at the White House:
“Well I never minded that very much to be honest. We helped the Philippines very much. We helped them defeat ISIS… I don’t really mind if they would like to do that, it will save a lot of money. My views are different from others.” Trump said he had “a very good” relationship with Duterte and added: “we’ll see what happens.”
Duterte’s decision, sparked by the revocation of a U.S. visa held by a former police chief who led his bloody war on drugs, could complicate U.S. military interests in the Asia-Pacific region as China’s ambitions rise. The VFA is important to the overall U.S.-Philippines alliance and sets out rules for U.S. soldiers operating in the Philippines. It underpins what Washington has called an “ironclad” relationship despite Duterte’s complaints about U.S. hypocrisy, ill treatment and ageing weapons.
Ending the VFA could hurt Washington’s future interests in maintaining an Asia-Pacific troop presence amid friction over the presence of U.S. personnel in Japan and South Korea and security concerns about China and North Korea.