With Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte interested in moving away from his country’s traditional military alliance with the United States, the annual Balikatan war games, scheduled for next month, have been scrapped, and replaced with a much smaller drill.
The new drill, instead of focusing on fighting a major war with the Philippines involved, will focus on joint humanitarian operation, simulating a joint reaction if a large typhoon hit the central Philippines. US officials say this is designed to meet the “current challenges of the Philippines.”
Clearly, that’s not what US officials wanted, however, with the Pentagon long seeing the Philippines as a central part of a future naval war with China. That’s been a sore spot for Duterte, who has made it clear he wants nothing to do with a war against China.
Indeed, if Duterte had his way, the drill probably wouldn’t happen at all, as he’s sought to shift away from joint operations entirely, while trying to also court China and Russia as alternative arms sellers to compete with the US. He’s wanted a more or less complete split with the US alliance, and a shift toward neutrality, though others in the government have been reluctant to go that far.
Keeping the drill humanitarian allows the US to keep its foot in the door in the Philippines, and strong ties with the nation’s military, which is likely to be the US long-term goal, hoping for a resumption of traditional ties as soon as Duterte’s term in office is up.
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