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World

Philippine President Urges U.S. To Remove Military Advisers

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is challenging his country's long-standing military relationship with the U.S. First he demanded the U.S. withdraw military advisers who've been helping the Philippines battle an Islamic insurgency. And now Duterte says the Philippines will no longer do joint patrols with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Duterte's statements are just the latest in a string of tirades against the U.S. since he took office in June. The Philippine president warned that the presence of U.S. military personnel is inflaming an Islamist insurgency in the south of the country and that region would never have peace while the Philippines is allied with the U.S. It was this sort of blunt talk that helped propel the 71-year-old Duterte into power. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says he wasn't surprised by the comments.

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JOSH EARNEST: Primarily because of the tendency of this individual to make some rather colorful comments.

NORTHAM: These latest comments come just days after Duterte called President Obama a son of a whore. Duterte tends to soften or back down from his statements afterwards. But his erratic behavior comes at a critical time for the Obama administration, which is trying to consolidate its so-called pivot to Asia and counter increasing Chinese aggression, especially in the South China Sea. Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia Program at the Center for a New American Security, calls Duterte a wild card and says the administration has to resist the temptation to react to his behavior.

PATRICK CRONIN: We have to let him vent from time to time. We're going to continue to see this tactic played out, but hopefully over time he will learn that that's not the best way to manage the alliance. It's actually a recipe for unraveling the alliance.

NORTHAM: Cronin says ultimately, a long history of shared interests between the two nations should help transcend Duterte's presidency. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.