BEIJING – President Duterte announced yesterday that he is cutting military and economic ties with the United States and is veering towards China, in a dramatic foreign policy shift that his officials said would open more opportunities for the Philippines.
In a 40-minute speech peppered with expletives, Duterte said the US has been arrogant and has been imposing its policies on other countries, including the Philippines, its traditional partner and ally.
“In this venue, I announce my separation from the United States both in the military… not social, but economics also,” Duterte said, drawing a standing ovation from businessmen during the Philippines-China Trade and Investment Forum. “I have separated from them so I will be dependent on you for a long time, but don’t worry, we will also help.”
At a gathering of the Filipino community last Wednesday, he had the same message to the US: “It’s about time to say: goodbye my friend. Your stay in my country was for your own benefit.”
Yesterday he said the US had “lost” and he had realigned the Philippines with China and Russia in a “triumvirate… against the world.”
Duterte said he had agreed to resolve a maritime dispute with China through talks.
He also bared plans to visit Russia and talk with President Vladimir Putin about strengthening ties.
In his remarks before Filipino expats, Duterte said the US has taken the Philippines for granted and has interfered in its affairs.
He said he would not visit the US during his term and indicated he might require Americans to get visas for entry to the Philippines.
“I will not go to America anymore. We will just be insulted there,” he said. “America? I cannot go there because they won’t give me a visa.”
Duterte said a provincial mayor was humiliated when he was denied a visa even if he was invited for a month-long study under the aegis of the US Agency for International Development.
He did not identify the mayor, but there are unconfirmed reports that he was denied the visa.
“The problem is you go to America, you aren’t issued a visa,” he said. “But they can enter the Philippines any time visa-free. Why don’t we get even?” His audience laughed.
Duterte also complained about the supposed refusal of the US to sell missiles for the Philippines’ lead-in fighter trainer jets. He also belittled the contribution of the US to the Philippines’ educational system, which gave the country an edge in English proficiency.
“Do not tell us that you have provided us with education. We would have survived if there was no education in my country at that time. We would have invited one better than what they have given us,” he said.
Duterte’s economic managers said his new policy would open the Philippines to trade and investment opportunities in the region.
The tough-talking president accused the US of insulting him after American officials raised concerns over reports of rising extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the Philippines.
Early this month, Duterte said he would no longer allow the military to conduct joint military drills with American troops, activities that are part of a decades-old defense treaty between the two countries.
He clarified though that he is not severing ties with the US but is merely implementing an independent foreign policy.
In his speech before the Filipino community, Duterte declared that he would not visit the US within his term.
“I will not go to America anymore. We will just be insulted there,” the President said.
“So I’ll try to figure out a new foreign policy. America? I cannot go there because they won’t give me a visa.”
Duterte lamented Filipinos were having difficulty getting US visas even if Americans don’t get the same treatment and can visit the Philippines anytime.
He recounted a provincial mayor was humiliated when he was denied a visa even if he had an invitation to a month-long study program under the United States Agency for International Development.
The President even hinted at requiring Americans to secure a visa before entering the Philippines. “The problem is you go to America, you aren’t issued a visa,” the President said.
“But they (Americans) can enter the Philippines anytime visa free. Why don’t we get even?” he added, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
Duterte also complained about the supposed refusal of the US to sell missiles for the Philippines’ lead-in fighter trainer jets. He also belittled the contribution of the US to the Philippines’ educational system.
“Do not tell us that you have provided us with education. We would have survived if there was no education in my country at that time, we would have invited one better than what they have given us,” the President said.
John Forbes of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines said the US is the country’s top investor, employing 1.2 million in the BPO industry alone. He added the US is also the country’s top investor in semiconductor and the biggest source of remittances.
Data posted on the US State Department website showed $143 million in US assistance in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.
At Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Xi told Duterte he hoped the latter’s “milestone” visit could help “fully improve” ties, which have suffered from the dispute over territories in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.
Xi told Duterte China and the Philippines were brothers and that the two sides could “appropriately handle disputes,” although Xi did not specifically mention the South China Sea row in comments in front of reporters.
“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.
Following their meeting, during which Duterte said relations with China had entered a new “springtime,” Chinese vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin said the South China Sea issue was not the sum total of relations.
“The two sides agreed that they will do what they agreed five years ago, that is to pursue bilateral dialogue and consultation in seeking a proper settlement of the South China Sea issue,” Liu said.
The two countries would return to the track of dialogue and consultation in seeking a proper settlement of the territorial issue, Liu told reporters after the Xi-Duterte meeting.
China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
In 2012, China seized Scarborough Shoal – claimed by Beijing as Huangyan island and by Manila as Panatag – and denied Filipino fishermen access to its rich fishing grounds.
Liu said the issue was not mentioned and did not answer a question about whether Philippine fishermen would be allowed to fish there.
The Chinese official did say both countries agreed on coast guard and fisheries cooperation. He did not give details.
Duterte said that with his “separation” from the US, he has “realigned” himself with China’s “ideological flow” and is considering visiting Russia to formally cement a renewed alliance.
“America has lost now,” Duterte told Chinese and Philippine business people at a forum in the Great Hall of the People, attended by Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.
“I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and 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. It’s the only way,” he added.
“With that, in this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States,” Duterte said to applause. “I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you for all time. But do not worry. We will also help as you help us.”
China has pulled out all the stops to welcome Duterte, including a marching band complete with baton-twirling band master at his official welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People, which most leaders do not get.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said $13.5 billion in deals would be signed.
Beijing has welcomed the Philippines’ efforts to embrace China, even as Duterte has vowed not to surrender any sovereignty to Beijing, which views the ruling of The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of Manila as null and void.
Duterte on Wednesday said the arbitration case would “take the back seat” during talks, and that he would wait for the Chinese to bring up the dispute rather than doing so himself.
Duterte’s congenial tone in Beijing is in contrast to the language he has used with Washington, having called US President Barack Obama a “son of a b***h” and railed against US criticism of his war on drugs which has led to the deaths of over 3,000 people.
While his hard-line drug war tactics have raised concerns in Western capitals about extrajudicial killings, China has expressed support.
Beijing will also restore Philippine agricultural exports to China and provide financing for Philippine infrastructure, Liu said.
“The Chinese people are passionate about peace,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement, citing Xi.
Xi said that issues which can’t immediately be resolved should be temporarily set aside, according to the statement.
The Philippines and China signed yesterday several agreements, including a deal seeking to form a joint body that would promote maritime cooperation between the two countries.
Duterte and Xi witnessed the signing of the agreements – a development seen as a confidence-building measure between the two countries whose ties were strained by the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea dispute.
The agreements covered a wide range of areas including trade, tourism, agriculture, security, health and infrastructure.
“President Duterte’s current state visit to China is indeed a milestone in the bilateral relations. It will usher in the bilateral cooperation into a new stage and it will signify the full recovery of friendship and cooperation between the two countries,” Liu said in a press briefing after the signing ceremony.
One of the documents signed was a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the establishment of a joint coast guard committee on maritime cooperation. It was not clear whether the agreement would grant Filipino fishermen access to Panatag Shoal and other areas in the West Philippine Sea seized by China.
“The signing of cooperation agreement between coast guards of the two countries means that the two countries will start cooperation on maritime affairs,” Liu said.
Also signed was a protocol on cooperation between the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Narcotics Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security of China. The document seeks to promote cooperation in the fight against illegal drugs, a centerpiece program of the Duterte administration. With Richmond Mercurio