DIPLOMACY: ANALYSIS
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Rodrigo Duterte

Officials scramble to douse concerns about US ties after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise of ‘separation’

Duterte’s efforts to engage China mark a reversal in foreign policy since the 71-year-old former mayor took office on June 30

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 11:07am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 2:39pm

The Philippines will maintain its trade and economic ties with the US, Trade Minister Ramon Lopez said on Friday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte announced his “separation” from Washington.

Duterte made his comments in Beijing, where he was paving the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance as relations with long-time ally Washington deteriorate.

“With that, 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. “Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also.”

The US Embassy press attache in Manila said on Friday Duterte’s comments were creating “unnecessary uncertainty”.

The president did not talk about separation
Philippine Trade Minister Ramon Lopez

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.

Lopez sought to explain Duterte’s comments.

“Let me clarify. The president did not talk about separation,” Lopez told CNN Philippines in Beijing. “In terms of economic [ties], we are not stopping trade, investment with America. The president specifically mentioned his desire to strengthen further the ties with China and the Asean region which we have been trading with for centuries.”

He said the Philippines was “breaking being too much dependent on one side”.

“But we definitely won’t stop the trade and investment activities with the West, specifically the US,” he added.

The US has seen Manila as an important ally in its “rebalance” of resources to Asia in the face of a rising China. The US Embassy press attache in Manila, Molly Koscina, said Duterte’s statements were creating uncertainty.

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“We’ve seen a lot of this sort of troubling rhetoric recently which is inexplicably at odds with the warm relationship that exists between the Filipino and American people and the record of important cooperation between our two governments,” she said via email. “We have yet to hear from the Philippine government what Duterte’s remarks on ‘separation’ might mean, but it is creating unnecessary uncertainty.”

She also said the United States would honour alliance commitments and treaty obligations with the Philippines: “And, of course, we expect the Philippines to do the same.”

Maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world - China, Philippines and Russia
Rodrigo Duterte

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said Washington intended to keep its alliance commitments to the Philippines.

“Obviously any relationship is one of mutuality and we will continue to discuss that with our Philippine counterparts,” he told reporters before landing in Turkey. “That’s not new today, but that’s our alliance relationship with the Philippines.”

Marie Banaag, from the Philippine presidential communications office, urged the public to wait for guidelines before interpreting Duterte’s announcement.

“There is no rush for us to interpret the speech of the president as we have to wait for guidelines that would be coming from him, from the Department of Foreign Affairs, as soon as they come back,” she said.

Duterte said in Beijing that he had “realigned [himself] in your ideological flow” and “America has lost now”.

“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,” he said. “It’s the only way.”

Philippine Budget Minister Benjamin Diokno said the Philippines’ warming ties with China did not mean that its relationships with other countries would cool.