Duterte announces ‘separation’ from US during China visit

Philippines leader’s visit hailed as ‘milestone’ by China, with South China Sea talks planned

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese president Xi Jinping attend a signing ceremony today in Beijing, China. Photograph: Ng Han Guan-Pool/Getty Images

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese president Xi Jinping attend a signing ceremony today in Beijing, China. Photograph: Ng Han Guan-Pool/Getty Images


After receiving a warm welcome in Beijing, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has announced economic and military “separation” from long-time ally the United States and hailed a “springtime” for relations with China.

China and the Philippines have also agreed to hold bilateral talks to discuss the South China Sea, after relations soured following an international tribunal ruling in favour of Manila’s challenge to China’s claims to large swathes of the maritime region.

“Even as we arrived in Beijing close to winter, this is the springtime of our relationship,” Mr Duterte told President Xi Jinping as he was received with full military honours in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.

Mr Duterte’s four-day mission underlines expectations that he wants to reverse Philippine foreign policy, switching away from former colonial ruler Washington towards Beijing, which has long been a regional rival.

“I announce my separation from the United States, both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost me,” he told a Philippines-China trade and investment forum, chuckling.

“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,” he told his Beijing audience, to wild applause.

He also accused Americans of being “sometimes rowdy. Their larynx is not adjusted to civility . . . Duterte of the Philippines is veering towards China because China has the character of an Oriental. It does not go around insulting people,” he said to loud applause.

Friendly footing

“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,” he said.

China’s deputy foreign minister Liu Zhenmin told a news conference that the two countries would meet to discuss the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as it is known in the Philippines.

“The two presidents agreed that China and the Philippines will return to the track of dialogue and consultation to properly handle the South China Sea issue,” he said.

The announcement came after the two presidents signed co-operation agreements – trade deals worth €12.3 billion are due to be signed during the trip.

Mr Duterte has maintained his strident anti-American tone during the visit, again referring to US president Barack Obama as a “son of a whore”, in what seems a volte-face from earlier this year when he threatened to ride a jet ski to the Spratly Islands and plant a Philippine flag in the face of Chinese aggression.

Meanwhile, Washington’s outgoing ambassador to Manila, Philip Goldberg, whom Mr Duterte has previously called a “gay son of a whore”, described violence outside the US embassy, where police used tear gas to disperse about 1,000 anti-American protesters, as “disturbing”.

In Beijing, Mr Duterte is leading a large delegation of Philippine business people on his first official visit outside Southeast Asia.

Mr Duterte took office in late June, said he was fed up with the Philippines’ foreign policy being dictated by a western agenda, particularly that of the US, and has suspended joint US-Philippine patrols in the South China Sea and threatened to end joint military exercises.

He is especially angry at US criticism of his war on drugs, which has claimed the lives of as many as 3,700 suspected drug pushers and users since July 1st, including 1,573 people who have died in police operations.

Mr Duterte has also attacked the EU for not supporting the crackdown, although China has expressed support for the campaign and is building large drug rehab centres in the Philippines.