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China Just Botched a Monumental Opportunity With the Philippines

Did China miss its shot at the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement?

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement on February 11 that Manila planned to terminate the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement in six months, per the VFA terms, was hailed by Beijing as evidence the U.S. was losing great power competition with China in the Indo-Pacific. A Chinese state-run media headline exclaimed «Washington’s divisive intents get cold shoulder,» and another called Duterte’s decision a «severe blow» to the U.S.-Philippines alliance. Then, on April 18, Beijing officially declared the establishment of administrative control over the disputed Spratly Islands. Also starting in April, Beijing redeployed the Haiyang Dizhi 8 geological survey vessel with coast guard escorts into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, and did the same against Malaysia to harass West Cappella’s exploration operations in disputed waters — underscoring that no ASEAN neighbor is safe from China’s growing assertiveness in the region. Hence, Duterte’s move on the VFA could be viewed as a natural recalibration that helps satiate public demands to keep Washington nearby.
An inescapable conclusion is that Beijing failed to seize the moment that could have resulted in termination, or at least renegotiation, of the VFA by August 9.

This article was written by  Derek Grossman

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