The Philippine-US Balikatan military exercises will conclude today after 11-days of war games involving 8,000 military personnel—3,000 more than last year.
In their 34th iteration, the military exercises are an annual affirmation of bilateral security ties between Manila and Washington founded on the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s soured relations with Washington led to only 5,000 troops from both sides at last year’s exercises compared to over 11,000 troops in 2015 and 8,580 in 2016.
The exercises have provided a positive spin to what has been a fraught relationship in past years. More recently, Manila has criticised President Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP and bemoaned the lack of a bilateral free trade agreement with the US. In turn, Trump has complained about higher Filipino tariffs on American vehicles vis-à-vis Japanese cars.
The Balikatan exercises reaffirm bilateral security cooperation, emphasising joint defence and counter-terrorism training for operations in the Southern Philippines. However, divergences on trade—as well as Duterte’s desire to pivot Filipino economic interests towards China—suggest the relationship is well and truly stuck in the security realm.
John is a Senior Analyst with an interest in Indo-Pacific geopolitics. Master of International Relations (Australian National University) graduate with study focus on the Indo-Pacific. Qualified lawyer (University of Auckland, NZ) with experience in post-colonial Pacific & NZ legal systems.