Philippines’ President wants US troops out in two years
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he wants US troops out of his country in the next two years and is willing to scrap defence pacts with longtime ally Washington if necessary. The comments follow a series of anti-American tirades by the firebrand leader, who has repeatedly attacked the US while cosying up to Beijing, upending his nation’s foreign policy in comments that have sometimes been quickly retracted.
“I want, maybe in the next two years, my country free of the presence of foreign military troops,” Duterte told an economic forum in Tokyo, in a clear reference to US forces.
“I want them out and if I have to revise or abrogate agreements, executive agreements, I will,” he added.
The US, which once operated sprawling bases in the country, now has a small number of Special Forces on the southern island of Mindanao to aid in counter-terrorism operations.
Duterte has previously said he wants US troops out of Mindanao because their presence stokes tensions on the island where Islamist militants have waged a decades-long separatist insurgency.
Duterte’s aides frequently attempt to walk back his controversial comments, and today was no exception.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, asked at a subsequent press conference to clarify the remarks, said that Duterte did not mean US troops would be ousted, stressing that “our national interests still continue to converge”.
The acid-tongued leader arrived in Tokyo yesterday on his first visit to Japan since taking office June 30, looking to persuade executives his country is “open for business”, after overturning Manila’s traditional diplomatic alliances.
The 71-year-old has also slammed Washington for questioning his violent crime crackdown, which has claimed some 3,700 lives and attracted widespread international criticism.
Duterte has also insulted President Barack Obama, calling him a “son of a whore” and announcing a “separation” from the US during a visit to Beijing last week.
Although he quickly walked back from his comments, saying that “separation” did not mean he would “sever” ties, he reiterated his calls today for an end to all joint war games with the US.
“This will be the last manoeuvre war games between the United States and the Philippines’ military,” he said of an event hosted in recent weeks by the Philippines.
Duterte later began a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and will also meet with Emperor Akihito on Thursday.
Although his Japanese hosts depend on the US for security, Tokyo has so far not responded to Duterte’s diatribes, while Washington has taken a calm approach.