News ID: 89052
Publish Date : 11 April 2021 - 21:11
MINLA (Dispatches) -- Defense chiefs from the Philippines and the United States on Sunday expressed hope to resume joint military exercises in the South China Sea, which were called off last year by President Rodrigo Duterte amid speculations that he wanted to avoid taking sides between Beijing and Washington.
Last year, Duterte told the military to refrain from joining other countries, including the United States and Australia, in maritime drills in the sea’s international waters.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and his American counterpart, Lloyd Austin, said in a telephone conversation on Sunday that "both are looking forward to the conduct of Exercise Balikatan.”
The two defense chiefs also discussed recent developments in regional security, according to a statement issued by Lorenzana’s department.
Austin reiterated the importance of a two-decade troop deployment agreement between Washington and Manila, known as Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The VFA provides the legal framework under which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines.
President Duterte unilaterally canceled the agreement last year in an angry response to an ally being denied a U.S. visa.
He said in February that Washington must pay more if it wants to maintain the agreement.
The withdrawal period has, however, been twice extended to create what Philippine officials say is a "window for better terms” to be agreed.
Duterte has openly disapproved of the long-standing U.S. military alliance.
The latest messaging on the joint war games came just days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Filipino counterpart, Teodoro Locsin, discussed China’s activities in the South China Sea.
Blinken expressed concerns over the massing of Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef, and reaffirmed that the mutual defense treaty between Washington and Manila applied to the South China Sea.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged the U.S. to stop "inciting quarrels and sowing discord” regarding the Whitsun Reef situation.
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