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Philippines Seeks to Improve Relations with US

U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson, left, is welcomed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during the former's courtesy call at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines, Aug. 7, 2017.
U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson, left, is welcomed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during the former's courtesy call at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines, Aug. 7, 2017.
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The Philippines appears to be seeking a return to stronger economic relations with the United States. Experts say the change may be designed to balance the Philippines’ increasing dependence on China.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said it is “seeking to intensify economic cooperation” in an effort to improve relations with the U.S. The department posted the message on its website. It also said stronger economic ties would “go beyond security issues.”

The two nations have been strong allies since the Philippines became independent in 1946. But relations have worsened since Rodrigo Duterte became Philippine president last year. Duterte has reacted strongly to American criticism of his deadly anti-drug campaign. One example: He reduced the number of joint naval guard activities.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Peter Cayetano met in Washington with U.S. Senator Cory Gardner. He leads the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia. Cayetano suggested deepening the economic relationship between the two countries.

President Duterte has made major changes to his country’s foreign policy. These include searching for economic aid from China although the countries dispute territorial rights in the South China Sea. Duterte has also sought help from Russia and Japan. Japan and China are helping the Philippines with its $167 billion, five-year plan to improve public works.

Dexter Feliciano is a Filipino and founder of a new company in Manila. He says “we won’t want to distance ourselves (from) the U.S. because we are really trade partners and culturally we are connected.”

The United States has long permitted Filipinos to work in the U.S. as teachers and nurses. About 3.4 million do so. More work in the U.S. than in any other foreign country. These workers then send money to their families in the Philippines.

About 10 million Filipinos work in other foreign countries.

The United States is among the top foreign investors in the Philippines. A U.S. embassy official in Manila says the United States has made more than $4.5 billion in direct investment in the country. It is also a top trading partner, she said: the two sides exchanged more than $17 billion in goods last year.

Americans own Convergys, the Philippines’ largest private employer. The embassy says the information management company employs more than 60,000 Filipinos.

Duterte and some Filipinos have complained that the U.S. economic aid comes with conditions. For example, last year the U.S. government stopped planned sales of 26,000 firearms to the Philippines. The U.S. also said it would redirect $9 million in aid away from the Philippine anti-drug training.

The American government criticized Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, which included killing drug crime suspects without trial.

Businessman Feliciano says, “Aid given by the U.S has strings attached. We have to do this, we have to do that. But what if the government doesn’t want to do it?”

Experts say military and public pressure may have pushed Duterte to try to strengthen the Philippines’ relationship with the United States. Early this year, a research company in Manila, the Social Weather Stations, found that about 70 percent of Filipinos place “much trust” in the United States.

Carl Thayer is a retired professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia. He has studied Southeast Asia for many years. He says Duterte’s position as chairman of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations could be influencing his actions as well. Thayer says much of Southeast Asia depends upon the United States for trade and defense support.

Experts note that Chinese aid also has limits.

Thayer says, “You get an impression that the leaning to China has had its limits and constraints.” It’s resulted in a lot of promises and some delivery,” he said, “but not completely.”

Thayer says a return to close ties with the United States shows that the Philippine government is becoming more realistic.

I’m Anne Ball.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted his report for VOA Learning English. Caty was the editor.

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Words in This Story

access – n. permission or ability to enter something; freedom to make use of something

complain – v. to criticize; to accuse a person of something

strings attached expression something with special demands or restrictions

impression – n. an effect, influence or improvement of something

constraint – n. control that restricts or limits