The Philippines has again suspended a decision to scrap a crucial agreement governing the US troop presence in the country, its foreign minister said on Monday.
The announcement comes amid continuing maritime pressure from China, Reuters reports.
It is the third suspension of the decision covering the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that is due to expire in August.
Analysts say there would be disappointment in both countries if it is not renewed.
Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months during which time President Rodrigo Duterte and Washington will further address Manila’s concerns regarding aspects of the agreement.
The Philippines is a US treaty ally and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA, which provides rules for the rotation of thousands of US troops in and out of the Philippines for war drills and exercises.
Having the ability to rotate in troops is important not only for the defence of the Philippines but strategically for the US when it comes to countering China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the region.
Greg Poling, a maritime security expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said there would be frustration in Washington.
“It isn’t the worst possible scenario, obviously, but Philippine officials were really signalling that they were confident they had reached a deal Duterte would get on board with, and instead everyone has to remain in limbo for at least another six months,” he said. “Duterte doesn’t seem to want it, but everyone else does.”
Manila has in the past been unhappy about issues such as a lack of jurisdiction over US personnel who commit crimes in the Philippines and environmental damage during maritime drills.
Duterte told Washington last year he was cancelling the deal amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa, but he has instead repeatedly suspended the expiration date.
The latest suspension comes at a time of continued tensions between Manila and Beijing over disputed waters in the South China Sea and a US announcement last week that the Philippines would be among countries that would receive millions of Covid-19 vaccines it is donating.
Ties between Washington and its former colony have been complicated by Duterte’s rise to power in 2016 and his frequent condemnation of US foreign policy and embrace of China, which has nevertheless continued to pressure his country’s maritime boundaries.
Manila has repeatedly protested what it calls the “illegal” and “threatening” presence of hundreds of Chinese “maritime militia” vessels inside its exclusive economic zone.