Thursday (June 4th): To terminate or not to terminate? That is the question…

Rodrigo Duterte

Name? Rodrigo Duterte

Westphalian identity? Filipino

Age? 75

Why is he in the news? The Filipino president has decided not to terminate a key military pact with the U.S. given increased wariness of China in the region.

Why do we care? Duterte seemed determined to terminate the security agreement in February as he aimed to increase relations with China and distance himself (and his country) from the U.S. His sudden change of heart this week can only be attributed to China’s growing naval might in the contested South China Sea.

Why should you care? Because, whether you like it or not, the US armed forces are needed in the South China Sea as a counterpart to China’s own forces. The Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the U.S.; the only of its kind the U.S. holds with a contesting country in the region, allows the US to keep military personnel and materials along the vital maritime shipping route.

Who else cares? Quite obviously, China cares as Duterte’s move will be seen as a direct action against Chinese interests. More subtly, however, the other nations with claims to the South China Sea (Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei) care about Duterte’s decision to suspend termination as it means they will also benefit from US forces countering China’s.

Any further comments? The United States and China; specifically Trump and Xi, are seemingly at war on anything and everything: trade, Hong Kong, protests, vaccines, PPE, the list goes on. But an often overlooked area at which the two superpowers are actually set for conflict is the extremely vital shipping route of the South China Sea. While Duterte’s move keeps China at bay for a bit longer, there’s no telling when Xi will decide to move more aggressively in the region. Just ask India.

Sarah McFadden

General Coordinator