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South China Sea

Duterte extends Philippines' military deal with US

Extension will give Biden time to renegotiate current agreement

Sailors prepare aircraft on the carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea on Nov. 2. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has extended a troop deal with the U.S., giving President-elect Joe Biden more time to negotiate. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy)

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to extend the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S., Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Wednesday, amid continuing tensions with China in the disputed South China Sea.

The extension would give Manila and Washington, which will usher in a new administration under Joe Biden as President in January, more time to discuss options for the troops deal, a key aspect of their defense alliance, an analyst said.

Duterte early this year ordered the abrogation of the 1998 agreement, which facilitates the entry of American troops into the Philippines for annual military drills, after the U.S. suspended the visa of one of his political allies.

But Manila in June suspended the abrogation for six months -- extendable by another six months -- amid heightened U.S.-China rivalry and Beijing's fresh moves in the disputed waters at the time.

Locsin informed U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien about the VFA extension, citing both governments' efforts to maintain stability in the South China Sea.

President Duterte early this year ordered the abrogation of the 1998 agreement, but subsequently suspended that decision. (Photo courtesy of government of the Philippines)

"In appreciative recognition thereof, my President, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, has instructed me to convey with the appropriate formality his decision to extend the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement by yet another six months, to enable us to find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense," Locsin said in a diplomatic note addressed to O'Brien.

"Long Live Philippine-U. S. friendship and alliance," Locsin added.

It was not immediately clear when exactly the abrogation will take effect following Manila's latest action. But the development offers "a clean slate" for the Biden administration to negotiate to keep the VFA, said Aaron Jed Rabena, a research fellow at Manila-based think tank Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress.

"With the Biden administration in power, I think the U.S. can have a new approach in terms of convincing the Duterte administration to finally bring the VFA back on track," Rabena said. "Maintaining the alliance is an element of U.S. stature as a global leader."

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