Tuesday, October 25, 2016

White House looks to ride out Duterte storm

White House looks to ride out Duterte storm: President Barack Obama has only a handful of months left in office, but facing the shock loss of a pivotal Asian ally in the Philippines, his White House is playing a long game.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte says a lot of things. Most notably, the capricious 71-year-old has called Obama (and Pope Francis) a "son of a whore."

This week he declared decades of US-Filipino ties over, although he later qualified that remark.

"We haven't heard any specifics" said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, "but those comments are creating unnecessary uncertainty in our relationship."

On the face of it, Duterte's casual desecration of a 65-year-old military alliance and his eager embrace of China are blows for US influence and for Obama's "pivot to Asia."

The United States risks losing presence and access to ports and bases in the heart of the South China Sea -- a contested geopolitical hotspot.

Under Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino, China and the Philippines were at loggerheads over the contested economically vital waterway -- to the point that senior US officials worried about being dragged into a war with China.

But since Duterte took office in June, he has suspended joint US-Philippine patrols and threatened an end to joint military exercises.

A split would have regional ramifications. Duterte's sinophile turn could further split the ASEAN regional bloc, which Washington has cultivated as a counter to Beijing's designs on dominance.