US Defense Secretary Ash Carter says the United States has an “ironclad” alliance with the Philippines, countering statements by the Southeast Asian nation’s president that have thrown bilateral relations into deepening uncertainty.
Carter spoke a day after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared upcoming US-Philipppines military exercises “the last” and ruled out any joint navy patrols.
“As it has been for decades, our alliance with the Philippines is ironclad,” Reuters quited Carter as saying in remarks to American sailors aboard the USS Carl Vinson at its home port in San Diego, California.
Through a “landmark” recent agreement, “the United States is supporting the modernization of the Philippine Armed Forces”, he said.
Duterte has engaged in near-daily outbursts against the US for the last month, raising questions about whether Manila’s next moves could complicate regional diplomacy.
Among other measures, the firebrand leader has said he will order the pullout of the remaining US special forces stationed in the Philippines’ restive south.
The comments have cast doubt over an alliance that both countries have sought to strengthen amid shared concerns about China’s military clout and pursuit of broad maritime claims.
The Philippines and China have long sparred over sovereignty in the South China Sea.
Carter also cited the Maritime Security Initiative, under which the US is providing tens of millions of dollars to the Philippines.
Despite his inflammatory comments, Duterte has said the Philippines will maintain security agreements with Washington, the news agency said.
The Philippines’ Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Duterte had only ruled out joint patrols beyond the country’s 12-nautical-mile territorial waters.
US officials said this week that they had not seen formal requests from the Philippines to stop the joint patrols.
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