MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte might discuss the country’s mutual defense cooperation with the United States as well as freedom of navigation issues with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tonight in Manila.
This was according to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon who expressed optimism that the brief meeting would boost further the long-time defense alliance between the Philippines and the US, despite Duterte’s cozying up to China.
“We have a lot of mutual concerns with the United States, they are long time allies, and they have helped us in so many ways. They are friends so we can talk about that,” he said at the weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay hosted by STAR associate editor Marichu Villanueva.
Pompeo is set to arrive at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City tonight and pay a courtesy call on Duterte before the latter flies back to his province in Davao for the weekend. Pompeo’s visit ends tomorrow.
“We can talk about mutual defense, we can talk about freedom of navigation operations which nobody is objecting to… We have a wide range of topics that we can discuss,” he said. He declined to give details.
Some analysts see FONOP as a form of US “challenge to Beijing’s move in the South China Sea.” Beijing has been muscle flexing in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, especially through deployment of warships and reclaiming of land feature. In an apparent bid to appease the Filipinos and repay Duterte’s friendliness, China has offered to bankroll infrastructure projects in the Philippines.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. admitted that Pompeo had advised him to “read the fine print” when dealing with China.