Duterte Reaches out to U.S. Amid South China Sea Harassment

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As reports that Chinese vessels are increasing in number near Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in the South China Sea, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has hinted at a possible reconciliation with the U.S.

Duterte made a surprise announcement that he wanted to be “friendly” with the U.S., a view which contrasts to earlier statements. On several previous occasions, he called on U.S. special forces in the Philippines to return home and said he no longer wanted a joint military sea and land exercise with the U.S. He even described the U.S. as a “lousy” country.

But Duterte is changing his tune, now, two months after the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) broke the news that 11 Chinese ships were spotted in the sea waters of Pag-asa Island. The news alarmed the ASEAN community which suspected China was further expanding its military presence in the disputed South China Sea. Pag-asa is one of the Spratly Islands and is home to 100 Filipino fishermen.

Duterte has not publicly opposed the resumption of military drills that allowed 900 U.S. troops to hold joint military exercises with Filipino troops in the Northern Philippines. Though not specifying the joint military exercise is aimed at China, the U.S. embassy said that this military exercise will increase overall U.S. and Philippine readiness, improve bilateral responsiveness to crises in the region to further reinforce (the two countries’) decades-long alliance.

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