MANILA — Military and diplomatic officials in the Philippines were facing a quandary on Thursday after President Rodrigo Duterte distanced the country further from the United States, its biggest defense ally, by saying he would end joint military exercises like one scheduled for next week and would pursue closer ties to China and Russia.
Speaking to Filipinos in Vietnam late Wednesday, Mr. Duterte said that although he was preserving the 65-year military partnership between Manila and Washington, he was eager to strengthen relations with powers closer to home.
He said that Russia, where Philippine diplomats recently held embassy-level talks on procuring military hardware, had invited him to visit.
“So, I am serving notice now to the Americans and those who are allies,” he said. “This will be the last military exercise. Jointly, Philippines-U.S., the last one.”
On Thursday, the Department of National Defense said in a brief statement that it was waiting for “further orders” from Mr. Duterte regarding the joint exercises. Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana is seeking “clarification and guidance” from the president regarding the policy, it said.
“All agreements and treaties with the U.S. are still in effect,” the statement added. “As to succeeding exercises, we will have to sit down with our U.S. counterparts to discuss them.”
“We have not received an official request from the Philippine government,” said an embassy spokeswoman, Molly Koscina.
The United States defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, called the alliance with the Philippines “ironclad” during a speech in San Diego on Thursday, news agencies reported.
Mr. Duterte’s remarks on Wednesday followed his angry retorts to the United States recently after Washington questioned his government’s continuing antidrug war, which has left more than 1,300 people dead, many of them victims of unknown vigilantes.
In his speech, he also lashed out at President Obama and others who have raised questions about the drug campaign. He has invited experts from the United Nations, the United States and the European Union to come to the Philippines to observe the efforts firsthand.
Richard Javad Heydarian, who teaches political science at De La Salle University in Manila, said Mr. Duterte’s latest move could provoke a backlash from the Philippine security establishment, which remains deeply dependent on Washington.
“When it comes to Duterte, it is hard to say whether this is another instance of pure bluster and bravado or a final policy statement,” Mr. Heydarian said. “I personally doubt he will go ahead with severing military ties with the U.S. entirely.”
“He is signaling to China that he is willing to tinker a bit” with bilateral security ties, Mr. Heydarian said, “as a gesture of good will and as a confidence-building measure. This is in exchange for Chinese concessions in the Philippine-claimed waters and territories.He said the president’s statements had been timed to provide a favorable atmosphere before a visit he has planned to China. No date has been announced for that, but he has already sent a former president, Fidel V. Ramos, as his envoy to meet with Chinese officials in Hong Kong over the two countries’ territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Mr. Duterte has said he is charting a foreign policy that is free from American influence. He has also said he wants American military forces out of the southern Philippines, blaming their presence for fanning the growth of a Muslim insurgency there.
The Philippines and the United States are parties to a 1951 mutual defense treaty that calls on them to come to each other’s aid in times of trouble or invasion.
In 1991, the Philippine Senate voted to shut down two of the United States’ largest bases on foreign soil: the naval port in Subic Bay, near the South China Sea, and the Clark Air Base north of Manila.
Eight years later, however, the two countries signed a visiting-forces agreement that allowed the resumption of large-scale military exercises.
The first American troops returned in 2000 and helped the Philippines as advisers in its effort to crush Abu Sayyaf, a small group of Islamist militants responsible for the country’s worst atrocities, including kidnappings, bombings and killings.