Lorenzana optimistic PH will benefit from Biden administration
MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is optimistic that the new administration of US President Joe Biden and his anticipated pivot to Asia strategy would benefit the Philippines.
“We welcome with great optimism the change of leadership, and the US government that the strong and reliable friendship between the Philippines and US would flourish even further,” Lorenzana said in a forum hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines on Friday.
The new US administration inherits a strategic rivalry with China that is likely to dictate US policy in Asia. Just a few days after taking office, Biden has made steps to reassure Asian allies of its continued commitment.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken assured Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. that the US stands with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations in the face of China’s pressure.
Lorenzana said the longstanding geopolitical rivalry between Washington and Beijing will continue to test the country’s adeptness in balancing relations.
The Philippines has been cautious in dealing with the US and China as both superpowers continued to woo Manila on its side.
The defense secretary said it was necessary for the Philippines to continuously engage China for the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes. At the same time, he recognizes the US as “a stabilizing force in the region as a counterbalance to China.”
China claims ownership of nearly the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, which refers to waters claimed by the Philippines.
The US, which has accused China of taking advantage of the pandemic to advance its interests in the South China Sea, has sent the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the contested waters to promote “freedom of the seas.”
Lorenzana said the appointment of former US ambassador to Manila Sung Kim to the US Department of State, whom he said had a deeper understanding of the Philippines, makes him hopeful that prudence and proper restraint will be exercised in dealing with other country’s affairs.
The defense secretary also acknowledged that the Philippines should be a “responsible partner” and must do its share in fulfilling its commitment to the alliance with the US and undertake its role in preserving this decades-old friendship.
“Our country can be a more responsible partner by exerting efforts commensurate of the US and its neighbors, that does in the investing in the modernization and upgrade in its own armed forces and developing its own defense industry,” he said.
The alliance of the two countries was put to test when President Rodrigo Duterte unilaterally terminated the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) last year.
“That startled many, especially the Americans. Without the VFA, it is difficult to implement or develop interoperability between the Philippines and US forces as agreed upon in the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Lorenzana said.
Its status remains uncertain and renegotiations for the VFA are expected under the new US administration.