President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed interest in holding joint military drills with China. Duterte gave this response when asked by reporters if he was looking at joint exercises with China, after his visit to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s navy flagship-destroyer Chang Chun at the Sasa international port here on Monday afternoon.
He was open to the idea of conducting joint military exercises with China in piracy-plagued waters near the coast of the island of Mindanao. He has also asked Beijing to send patrol ships to help fight against Islamic State-linked militants in the Sulu Sea.
“Yes, I said I agree. We can have a joint exercise here in Mindanao, maybe in the Sulu Sea,” Duterte replied.
Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan II welcomed the President’s announcement. He told MindaNews in a text message on Tuesday: “Pag sinabi ni Presidente, papayag kami. Alam naman namin lahat ng gagawin ng Presidente ay makakabuti sa Mindanao” (If the President says so, we will comply. We all know that whatever the President does is for the good of Mindanao).
However, experts from both countries said, military cooperation between the two countries remains far from mature.
Analysts said Duterte’s call for closer military ties with the Chinese navy was in line with his push to reduce Manila’s dependence on the United States and expand ties with other regional powers.
Relationship between the Philippines and China has warmed since Duterte promised to put aside their territorial disputes over the South China Sea and pursue stronger economic links, but difficulties remain in expanding economic cooperation into the military sphere.
An International affairs expert from the University of the Philippines said that despite Duterte’s push for joint military exercises the two countries lack a Visiting Forces Agreement. The Philippines already has agreements in place with the United States and Australia for such cooperation, the expert said.
“Military drills with Beijing must be based on an written agreement that would serve as terms of reference for the drills, “said an expert from the Office of Naval Strategic Studies affiliated with the Philippine Navy, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“There are many considerations that have to be discussed bilaterally and threshed out in detail, such as the venue and type of exercises or activities. Those are possible obstacles but subject to bilateral negotiation,” the expert said.