U.S. Secretary of State to visit PH next week

By CNN Philippines Staff

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit the Philippines next week to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr.

Pompeo will be in Manila for a two-day trip from February 28 to March 1, the U.S. Department of State said in a press release Friday.

Prior to that, he would be in Vietnam from February 26 to 20 for the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Responding to a netizen on Twitter on Saturday, Locsin said he “[does not] know yet” the agenda of Pompeo’s Manila visit. He was asked whether the South China Sea dispute or the review of the Mutual Defense Treaty would be discussed.

Locsin said, “[Pompeo] did tell me first time we talked not to turn our noses up at Chinese deals; just to read the fine print as we should in every agreement. Last time we did not read the fine print we fell into the worst debt trap of all: that laid by [New York banks/World Bank/International Monetary Fund].”

Manila and Beijing officials earlier assured that the Philippines will not fall into a debt trap despite billions of pesos in grants and investment pledges from China. This is amid concerns that China’s loans to poorer nations came with strings attached and could build up staggering debt.

Meanwhile, Pompeo called Locsin in October 2018 to congratulate him for his appointment as Secretary of Foreign Affairs and South China Sea was among the topics they discussed. Details were not made public. In December, they met in Washington and discussed the maritime dispute again along with other regional issues.

U.S. does not have any claim in the South China Sea but it conducts freedom-of-navigation operations in international waters around the contested area and calls out China’s alleged militarization in the region.

The Philippines, which has overlapping claims with China, has pursued warmer ties with Beijing despite the East Asian giant’s rejection a 2016 international tribunal ruling in favor of Manila in the sea row.

Pompeo’s impending visit also comes as the Philippines and U.S. are set to discuss possible changes in the Mutual Defense Treaty, a nearly 68-year-old agreement that states that the Philippines and the U.S. would assist each other when either of them is attacked by a foreign force. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier raised concerns over “ambiguities” in the treaty, calling for discussions to have it reviewed.

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