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Philippines ‘will likely not allow US to launch South China Sea patrols from its territory’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana gestures during a conference in the city of Makati, the Philippines, December 8, 2016. (Photo by AP)

The Philippines says it is highly unlikely that it will continue to allow the US military to use the Southeast Asian country as a springboard for its so-called freedom of navigation patrols in the disputed South China Sea.

Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana made the remarks on Thursday, suggesting that the US ships and aircraft could use bases in Guam — territory near the Philippines that is administered by the US — and the Japanese island of Okinawa, or its warplanes could be dispatched from aircraft carriers to conduct patrols in the contested waters.

Before incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in late June, some US aircraft and ships used to stop in the Philippines on their way to patrols in the disputed South China Sea, where China has large-scale territorial claims. The patrols are meant to signal to China that the US does not recognize the Chinese claims.

China claims sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, which is also partially contested by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

The US’s military presence in the region — halfway around the world — has also led to worries of an increasing risk of accidental collisions that could spark a consequential wider conflict.

Washington presumes it would be limiting China’s maritime influence in the sea by invoking “freedom of navigation” rights. Furthermore, the US has been taking sides with several of China’s neighboring countries in their territorial disputes in the busy sea, in which five trillion dollars in ship-borne trade passes annually.

China has, in response, accused Washington of meddling in regional issues and deliberately escalating the situation in the region.

China-US relations are generally marked by simultaneous cooperation and tacit conflict.

This photo, taken on June 18, 2016 and released on June 19, 2016 by the US Navy, shows a flight formation above the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Philippine Sea. (Via AFP)

The US, the Philippines’ colonial ruler until 1946, currently serves as the South Asian country’s main military ally but has also been highly critical of President Duterte’s brutal crackdown on crime, specially drug trade, which has killed some 3,000 people over the past five months.

The relations between Washington and Manila have been particularly complicated lately by Duterte’s angry reaction to criticism from the White House of his violent battle to rid the country of drug dealers.

In October, in his yet strongest tirade against Washington, Duterte told US President Barack Obama to “go to hell,” adding that he may eventually decide to “break up with America.” He said Washington had refused to sell some weapons to his country but he did not care because Russia and China were willing alternative sources.

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