(Bloomberg) -- The Philippines has notified the U.S. that it's terminating a 22-year-old military agreement, which can be ended with 180-days notice, just hours after President Rodrigo Duterte said President Donald Trump was trying to save the deal.
The notice to terminate the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement -- which sets the terms for joint exercises and engagement of American soldiers in the Philippines -- has been transmitted to the U.S., presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Tuesday.
Scrapping the agreement would be the first concrete step by the Philippines to cut defense ties with the U.S., a move that Duterte had signaled since his six-year term started in 2016 and as he realigned his foreign policy toward China. The Philippines and the U.S. signed in 1951 a mutual defense treaty which binds the nations to defend each other, if attacked.
"Trump, and the others, are trying to save the Visiting Forces Agreement," Duterte said in a speech in Manila on Monday night. "I said, I don't want it," according to the official transcript.
The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines confirmed Tuesday it had been informed of Duterte's intent to scrap the agreement, but said it remained committed to the relationship between the two countries.
"This is a serious step with significant implications for the U.S.-Philippines alliance," the embassy said in a statement. "We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests."
Win for China
Scrapping the military deal will bring the Southeast Asian nation closer to China, as U.S. support for Philippine military will likely be reduced, said Malcolm Cook, senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
"As with many other decisions made by President Duterte, China appears to be the biggest winner and Philippine external security the biggest loser," Cook said.
The Philippines may find it difficult to access millions of dollars in military aid, and trade relations may also be hurt once the pact is terminated, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said last week. Joint military activities -- including training for thousands of Philippine and American soldiers -- will also be severely curtailed, he added.
The 74-year-old Duterte revived his threats to end the military pact with the America last month after the U.S. canceled the visa of his former police chief who oversaw his deadly drug war. Duterte said the nation's military ties with the U.S. didn't solve the decades-long communist insurgency.
The Philippines' leader has previously questioned whether the U.S. would defend the Philippines if China seizes disputed shoals and reefs in the South China Sea -- skepticism that has persisted in the Southeast Asian nation for decades. Beijing has built several artificial structure in the Spratly Islands where Manila also has claims. Philippine fishermen and vessels resupplying Philippine-occupied features in the waters have also been harassed by Chinese ships.
(Updates with comments from U.S. Embassy in fifth, sixth paragraph)
--With assistance from Clarissa Batino.
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