Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech in Manila on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Duterte announces China visit, dismisses Washington as ‘arrogant’

Philippine President says trip to China will come before he goes to Japan at end of month

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that he would soon visit China and hoped to also travel to Russia, as he again criticised long-time ally the United States for “arrogance”.

“China has repeatedly invited me. I have accepted the offer,” Duterte said in a speech.

He gave no specific dates for visiting China, but said it would take place before he went to Japan.

The Japanese government announced on Tuesday that Duterte would visit Japan from October 25 to 27.

Duterte said he had originally planned to visit Japan, the Philippines’ biggest source of foreign aid, ahead of China.

However, he explained that Japan had offered a “definite” date, and that China had then said there was a “vacancy” earlier, which he had accepted.

Duterte also said that after Japan, “probably I will go to Russia”.

It will be his first trip outside of Southeast Asia since assuming the presidency on June 30, signalling the importance he places on improving relations with Beijing that had soured because of a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Duterte has looked to build closer ties with Russia as well as China, while launching repeated criticisms of the US, the Philippines’ former colonial ruler and defence ally.

Duterte (centre) with police officers in Zamboanga city on Monday. The president has been criticised over a drug war that has seen thousands killed. Photo: EPA

Duterte on Tuesday branded the United States “arrogant” and powerless to stop Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

His attacks have been largely in response to US criticism of Duterte’s war on drugs, in which 3,300 have been killed.

Duterte has cancelled joint patrols with the US, said he may scrap a defence pact that allows thousands of US troops to rotate through the Philippines, and threatened to eventually cut ties completely.

He has branded US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” for expressing concern about human rights in the drug war.

In contrast, he has described Chinese leader Xi Jinping as “a great president” and praised China and Russia for showing respect in not criticising his crackdown.

“Eventually I might, in my term, break up with America. I would rather go to Russia or to China. Even if we do not agree with their ideology, they have respect for the people. Respect is important,” Duterte said this month.

The Philippines had long been regarded as one of Washington’s most loyal allies in Asia, with the two nations bound by a mutual defence pact signed in 1951.

Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, sought to draw the US even closer in a bid to counter Chinese efforts to take control of the South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters close to the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, and has in recent years built artificial islands in the disputed areas capable of hosting military bases.

The 2014 defence agreement and the joint patrols were key to Aquino’s strategy to contain China.

Aquino further angered China by filing a case with a UN-backed tribunal in 2013 against Beijing’s claims to most of the sea.

In July, shortly after Duterte took office, the tribunal ruled in favour of the Philippines, saying China’s claims had no legal basis and its construction of artificial islands in disputed waters was illegal.

But Duterte vowed not to “taunt or flaunt” the verdict and to seek a “soft landing” with China on the issue.

He has launched negotiations with China over the dispute, a tactic rejected by Aquino.

China has welcomed Duterte’s overtures.

“The clouds are fading away. The sun is rising over the horizon and will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations,” Chinese ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua said this month.