Saturday 10 December 2016

Philippine president tells Chinese he has 'separated from US'

Joy Kramer Manila

Published 21/10/2016 | 02:30

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has had an uneasy relationship with the US since taking office (AP)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has had an uneasy relationship with the US since taking office (AP)

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte announced his "separation" from the United States, declaring he had realigned with China as the two agreed to resolve their South China Sea dispute through talks.

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Duterte made his comments in Beijing, where he was visiting with at least 200 business people to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance as relations with long-time ally Washington deteriorate.

"In this venue, your honours, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States," Duterte told Chinese and Philippine business people, to applause, at a forum in the Great Hall of the People attended by Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli.

Duterte's efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal in the Hague ruled that Beijing did not have historic rights to the South China Sea in a case brought by the previous administration in Manila, marks a reversal in foreign policy since the 71-year-old former mayor took office on June 30.

His trade secretary, Ramon Lopez, said $13.5bn (€12.3bn)in deals would be signed during the China trip.

"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," Duterte told his Beijing audience.

A few hours after Duterte's speech, his top economic policymakers said that, while Asian economic integration was "long overdue", that did not mean the Philippines was turning its back on the West.

"We will maintain relations with the West but we desire stronger integration with our neighbours," finance secretary Carlos Dominguez and economic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia said in a joint statement.

"We share the culture and a better understanding with our region. The Philippines is integrating with ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea."

China has pulled out all the stops to welcome Duterte, including a marching band complete with baton-twirling band master at his official greeting ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People, which is not extended to most leaders.

President Xi Jinping 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 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 $5trn (€4.57trn) 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. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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