BEIJING: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced his “separation” from the United States, declaring that it had “lost” and he had realigned with China as the two agreed to resolve their South China Sea dispute through talks.
Duterte made his comments in China, where he is visiting with at least 200 business people to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance as relations with longtime ally the United States deteriorate.
His trade secretary Ramon Lopez said US$13.5bil (RM56.4bil) in deals would be signed.
Duterte’s efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal ruling in the Hague over South China Sea disputes favours the Philippines, marks a reversal in foreign policy since the 71-year-old former mayor took office on June 30.
“America has lost now,” Duterte told Chinese and Philippine business people at a forum in the Great Hall of the People, attended by Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, yesterday.
“I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way,” he added.
“With that, in this venue, your honours, I announce my separation from the United States,” Duterte said to applause.
“I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you for all time. But do not worry. We will also help as you help us.”
China has pulled out all the stops to welcome Duterte, including a marching band complete with baton-twirling band master at his official welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People, which most leaders do not get.
President Xi Jinping, meeting Duterte earlier in the day, called the visit a “milestone” in ties.
Xi told Duterte that China and the Philippines were brothers and they could “appropriately handle disputes”, though he did not mention the South China Sea in remarks made in front of reporters.
“I hope we can follow the wishes of the people and use this visit as an opportunity to push China-Philippines relations back on a friendly footing and fully improve things,” Xi said.
Following their meeting, during which Duterte said relations with China had entered a new “springtime”, Chinese vice-foreign minister Liu Zhenmin said the South China Sea issue was not the sum total of relations.
“The two sides agreed that they will do what they agreed five years ago, that is to pursue bilateral dialogue and consultation in seeking a proper settlement of the South China Sea issue,” Liu said.
China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about US$5 trillion (RM20.8 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year.
Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
In 2012, China seized the disputed Scarborough Shoal and denied Philippine fishermen access to its fishing grounds.
Liu said the shoal was not mentioned and he did not answer a question about whether Philippine fishermen would be allowed there.
He said both countries had agreed on coastguard and fisheries co-operation, but did not give details.
Duterte’s tone toward Beijing is in contrast to the language he has used against the United States, after being infuriated by US criticism of his bloody war on drugs.
On Wednesday, to the cheers of hundreds of Filipinos in Beijing, Duterte said Philippine foreign policy was veering towards China.
“I will not go to America anymore. We will just be insulted there,” Duterte said. “So time to say goodbye my friend.” — Reuters