US defense chief to meet Duterte, discuss VFA with Lorenzana

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Posted at Jul 29 2021 12:00 AM

US defense chief to meet Duterte, discuss VFA with Lorenzana 1
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin answers reporters' questions at the Pentagon as the US military nears the formal end of its mission in Afghanistan in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. July 21, 2021. Ken Cedeno, Reuters

MANILA - US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will pay a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday during his trip to Southeast Asia, which included stops in Singapore and Vietnam.

Malacañang said in a statement on Wednesday that Austin's visit will highlight the 75th anniversary of Philippines-US relations and the 70th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the long-time allies.

Austin's trip to the Philippines, which comes amid tensions between Beijing and Manila due to maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, is the last stop of his Southeast Asian trip.

In Singapore, the US defense chief criticized China's actions in the hotly contested sea, where Beijing has overlapping claims with several states in the region. 

"Beijing's claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea has no basis in international law," he said in a speech hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank.

The Pentagon chief earlier stressed that he would emphasize the US' commitment to freedom of the seas during his overseas trip.

His Philippine counterpart, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, earlier said Austin is expected to stay in the country on July 29-30, during which the two are likely to discuss Manila and Washington's Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which is in limbo after Duterte's decision last year to abrogate it.

"The VFA will not be changed. There will be just... a side agreement to implement the provisions of the VFA. And once it is signed by the President, then that will be official document that is attached to the VFA," Lorenzana said

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