Defense Secretary Ash Carter will use the meeting of Southeast Asian defense ministers this week to “seek to clarify” the Philippine position on joint exercises, following comments from Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte that his country may not support future joint exercises. A senior defense official said the US has received “different messages” from the Philippines about the future of joint exercises. Carter, during a speech Thursday in San Diego, said the US-Philippine defense alliance has been “ironclad,” though Duterte’s comments put the future in question. The partnership has lasted more than 60 years, and will “continue to survive” regardless of administrations, the official said. The two countries earlier this year signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, that includes US help in building up infrastructure. This focuses on five locations inside the country, including Basa AB where Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said USAF is helping build the base and could send future rotations there.
As the Pentagon increasingly pivots its focus to strategic competition with China, the U.S. will look to expand its partnership with South Korea to increase security across the entire Indo-Pacific region, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said Dec. 2 during a visit to the northeastern Asian nation.