Rodrigo Duterte

‘I cannot do that’: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reverses course on promised ‘separation’ from the US

Duterte apparently secured US$24 billion worth of funding and investment during four-day visit to Beijing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 2:15am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 October, 2016, 7:35pm

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has reversed course and insisted he is not cutting the nation’s cord with the US and that maintaining ties would be in his country’s best interest, stepping back from his “goodbye” America comments made during a ­four-day state visit to China.

“It’s not severance of ties,” Duterte said during a briefing in Davao city, after returning from Beijing. “When you say severance of ties, you cut diplomatic relations. I cannot do that. It’s in the best interests of my country that I don’t do that.”

Earlier in his trip, Duterte told a business forum that: “In this venue, I announce my separation from the US”. Back in the Philippines, though, Duterte claimed the comments referred only to a foreign ­policy that doesn’t “dovetail” with the US.

“What I’m really saying was separation of foreign policy, which in the past and until I became pres­ident, we always followed [the US],” he said.

Duterte’s cabinet members have often sought to tone down his statements. They followed a similar routine this time as well, claiming Duterte was “rebalancing” foreign policy and broadening the country’s alliance and not separating from the US.

“It is breaking away from the perpetual ‘little brown brother’ image of the Americans that has ­impeded our capability to stand on our own feet in addressing the urgent and complex domestic problems and foreign issues and pursuing our national ­interests without undue outside interference,” Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said.

China, Philippines to set up negotiation mechanism to resolve South China Sea disputes

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said ­Duterte’s remarks restate his position on “charting an independent foreign policy”.

In Davao, Duterte said he had not ­surrendered anything to China during the visit, particularly the Philippines’ rights to disputed territory in the South China Sea that was bolstered by a Permanent Court of Arbitration decision in July that China’s efforts to assert control over area exceeded the law.

However, he apparently secured US$24 billion worth of funding and investment from Beijing: China will provide US$9 billion in soft loans, including a US$3 billion credit line with the Bank of China, while economic deals including investments would yield US$15 billion, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

Asked about a possible alliance with China and Russia, Duterte said it could be military or economic in nature. He declined to comment on the US elections but called Russian President Vladimir Putin his “favourite hero”.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked in Beijing about Duterte’s comments, said countries should not resort to ­win-lose mentalities: “We should not have cold war thinking; it’s either you or me, you win I lose, that kind of zero-sum game.”

The White House, which had responded to the “separation” speech by saying there had been “too many” troubling statements from Duterte recently, was quick to welcome the apparent shift in tone.

“Based on his extensive, colourful previous ­comments, there is greater clarity that we would like to get about the intent of President Duterte and his government,” White House spokesman Josh ­Earnest said. “But based on what you’ve read me that seems to be a change in tone that is more consistent with the seven decade-long alliance between the United States and the Philippines.”