Defense Secretary Ash Carter hinted Friday at US impatience with the Philippine government over inflammatory comments by President Rodrigo Duterte.
At a news conference, Carter was asked his view on pursuing greater military collaboration with the Philippines in light of Duterte’s latest remarks. Earlier Friday the Philippine leader compared his bloody anti-crime war to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust and said he would be “happy to slaughter” 3 million drug addicts. Carter said he had not discussed Duterte’s comments with his Philippine counterpart, Delfin Lorenzana, who attended a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations hosted by Carter at an Oahu resort.
“Just speaking personally for myself, I find these comments deeply troubling,” Carter said. The Pentagon chief noted that the Philippines is a longtime US treaty ally.
“Like all alliances, it depends on the continuation of a sense of shared interests,” he added. “So far in U.S.-Philippine history we have had that. We look forward to continuing that. But that’s something that we continue to discuss with the Philippine government.”
When Carter visited the Philippines in April, he praised the strength of the partnership. Earlier this week in San Diego, he called U.S.-Philippine defense relations “ironclad.”
That seeming closeness took a sharp downturn when Duterte was elected president in June. In early September, President Barack Obama canceled a meeting with Duterte after the Philippine leader publicly called him a “son of a bitch.” Later, Duterte said he regretted the comment.
Earlier this week, Duterte said joint military exercises of Filipino and American troops scheduled for next week will be the last such drills, although his foreign secretary quickly said the decision was not final. Duterte said the Philippines will maintain its military alliance with the United States because they share a 65-year-old mutual defense treaty.
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Aides to Carter said he likely would seek clarification in Hawaii from Lorenzana regarding the future of U.S.-Philippine military exercises. Lorenzana is well-known to U.S. officials after serving for more than a decade at the Philippine Embassy in Washington prior to taking the defense portfolio after Duterte was elected.
Earlier Friday, Carter he wants to encourage more regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific on key issues like maritime security and combatting terrorism. As part of a broader Obama administration push to “rebalance” its security interests by paying greater attention to Asia and the Pacific after 15 years focused mainly on the Middle East, Carter is pitching the idea of an Asian security “network.”
“The network will help us uphold important principles like resolving disputes peacefully; ensuring countries can make their own choices free from foreign coercion and intimidation; and preserving the freedom of overflight and navigation guaranteed by international law,” he said.