Philippines has no intention of forging military alliance with China, Foreign Minister Yasay says
While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been vocal about forging closer ties with China following his criticism of the United States, his country’s long-time ally, forging a military alliance with the world’s No. 2 economic power is not going to happen, his top diplomat said on Thursday.
“When we would like to foster closer relationship with China, we will not certainly engage in any alliance with China from a military viewpoint because that has never been the intention of the president,” Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said before a hearing at the Senate.
“The president, on many occasions, has said categorically that he will only have one military alliance, and our only ally in that respect is the United States,” Yasay said.
The Philippines has an existing Mutual Defence Treaty with the United States signed in 1951, on which two other key pacts, the Visiting Forces Agreement of 1998 and the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement of 2014, are based.
In his recent public remarks, Duterte hinted of pulling out American forces from the southern island of Mindanao, belittled the validity of the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, expressed disapproval of the conduct of joint patrols in Philippine territorial waters, and threatened to suspend annual war games between US and Philippine forces during his term.
Duterte said the Philippines can always go to China and Russia, a pronouncement explained by administration officials as an expression of his intent to chart an independent foreign policy and at the same time, opening up the Philippines to other potential allies.
According to Yasay, Duterte’s main objective of visiting China later this month is to strengthen and promote other aspects of the two countries’ relationship besides a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
These include “trade relations, investment opportunities, infrastructure development cooperation and assistance, people-to-people contact, and cultural exchanges”, Yasay said.
In July, the Philippines won its case against China in an international arbitral tribunal that ruled that China’s claims to islands and reefs in the South China Sea were invalid.
Yasay said that while Duterte wants to revitalise ties with China, “this is not to mean we will be abrogating our alliances with the US, or weakening our friendship with the US”.
“The president had also assured our traditional partners and our allies that in so far as engagements with China are concerned, they will be part of the consultations that will be made. And the fact is, the president had been doing this. We had just met with the Japanese, the Australians. And I have met with my American counterpart where consultations are continuing along this line,” Yasay disclosed.
While he refused to say if Duterte will bring up the July 12 ruling of the international arbitration court when he meets with his Chinese counterpart, Yasay reiterated the Philippines is not shelving the favorable decision it got on the South China Sea issue.
In earlier pronouncements, Duterte said the immediate concern he will raise before China is for it to allow Filipino fishermen to catch fish again at the Scarborough Shoal, as ruled by the arbitral tribunal. He also vowed to present the arbitration ruling to China at the proper time.
The arbitration court nullified China’s nine-dash line claim over almost the entire South China Sea and criticised Beijing for damaging the marine environment there after reclaiming some of the disputed reefs and building structures on them.
Under the previous administration, the Philippines clung to the United States and its other allies, like Japan and Australia, to counter China’s aggressive assertion of its claims in the South China Sea.