Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he wants U.S. forces to leave the country, and is considering buying weapons from China and Russia. He also said he wishes to stop joint patrols in the South China Sea.
Duterte, who made international headlines after calling President Barack Obama a “son of a bitch” at the ASEAN summit, said militant groups, such as Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines, see Americans as a target for kidnapping for ransom, Agence France-Presse reports.
He warned that U.S. troops would be at risk if they did not leave the country.
“If [militant groups] see Americans, they’ll really kill them,” Duterte said. “They’ll get ransom and then kill [them], even if you are a black or a white American, as long as you’re an American.”
In addition to safety concerns, Duterte’s opposition to the U.S. military presence on the southern island of Mindanao stems from a U.S. pacification campaign that reportedly killed many Muslims in the region 100 years ago. USA Today reports Duterte attributes the restlessness of Muslims in the largely Catholic nation’s south to resentment for the killings, and has criticized the U.S. for failing to apologize for the deaths.
"The special forces, they have to go,” Duterte said. “They have to go in Mindanao, there are many whites there, they have to go."
According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, Washington has not yet received a formal request to remove U.S. military personnel from the country's southern region.
According to Bloomberg News, Duterte may be implementing new strategies to assert the country's independence from the U.S.
In a televised speech on Sept. 13, Duterte announced two unidentified countries agreed to give the Philippines soft loans to buy military equipment. Further comments hinted that Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana would visit China and Russia to “see what’s best,” but no official statements or deals have been made following the broadcast.
The arms deal would be a direct hit to the U.S. arms industry, which the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says has provided 75 percent of the Philippine's arms imports since 1950.
Jon Grevatt, a defense industry analyst at IHS Jane’s in Bangkok, told Bloomberg the U.S. would likely move diplomatically to prevent a deal between the Philippines and China, but Duterte has stated he wants to do business where it is “cheap” and “there are no strings attached.”
The Philippines was a U.S. colony from 1898 until 1940, and has since been one of America’s strongest allies in the region. The country hosted U.S. military bases until 1991, and has accepted troops from the U.S. military to aid in battling Abu Sayyaf insurgents since 2002.
Duterte also wants to stop joint patrols in the South China Sea, a key shipping route, saying, “I just want to patrol our territorial waters.”
Duterte spokesman Ernesto Abella has stated the Philippine president's recent actions reflect the government’s "new direction toward coursing an independent foreign policy" in years to come, according to USA Today.