Duterte says may be too busy to meet Trump

PHOTO: Reuters

DAVAO, Philippines - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he may turn down an invitation by Donald Trump to visit the United States, as he welcomed three Chinese warships to his home town.

Duterte, who has loosened the Philippines' long alliance with the United States while strengthening ties with China and Russia, said he could not commit to the American president because of a busy schedule that included a trip to Moscow.

"I am tied up. I cannot make any definite promise. I am supposed to go to Russia, I am supposed to go to Israel," he told reporters when asked about Trump's invitation made in a telephone call on Saturday.

Duterte expressed concerns about not being able to fit in a visit to Trump even though no firm date has yet been proposed for it.

Nevertheless, Duterte said relations with the United States were improving now that Trump had taken over from Barack Obama, who criticised the Philippine president for his anti-drug war that has claimed thousands of lives.

Rights groups have warned Duterte may be orchestrating a crime against humanity, with police and vigilantes committing mass murder. But Duterte insists his security forces are not breaking any laws.

Duterte last year branded Obama a "son of a whore" in response to the criticism. He also declared while in Beijing last year that the Philippines had "separated" from the United States.

The United States is the Philippines' former colonial ruler and the nations are bound by a mutual defence treaty.

Duterte said Monday that his efforts to loosen the alliance were only a response to the drug war criticism.

"It was not a distancing (of relations) but it was rather a rift between me and the (US) State Department and Mr Obama, who spoke openly against me," he said.

"Things have changed, there is a new leadership. He wants to make friends, he says we are friends so why should we pick a fight?" .

'Confidence building'

Duterte's comments came shortly after he visited three Chinese warships visiting his home town, the southern city of Davao on Mindanao island.

"This is part of confidence-building and goodwill and to show we are friends and that is why I welcome them," he said.

Duterte has pursued closer relations with the Chinese government even though Beijing has taken control of a fishing shoal and built artificial islands in parts of the South China Sea that are within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital waterway, even waters approaching the coasts of its neighbours.

Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have claims in the sea.

China's expansionism in the waters have triggered concern regionally and in the West, with its new artificial islands capable of serving as military bases.

But on Sunday Duterte issued a chairman's statement, after hosting a 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, which took a soft stance towards Chinese actions in the sea.

The statement merely took note of "concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments in the area".

It ignored an international tribunal ruling last year which said China's claims to most of the sea were unlawful.

It also did not carry wording from previous ASEAN statements calling for a "respect for legal and diplomatic processes" in resolving the dispute.

Duterte has repeatedly said the Philippines and other nations are helpless to stop the island-building, so there is no point challenging China in diplomatic and legal circles.

He has instead promoted what he says will be billions of dollars' worth of investments from China that he expects will result from the improvement in bilateral relations.

Duterte on Monday also repeated that he was open to joint military exercises between the Philippines and China.

"I said I agree. There can be joint exercises," said Duterte, who has scaled back regular war games with the United States.

Duterte in China to promote economic ties

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced his "separation" from the United States on Thursday, declaring that it had "lost" and he had realigned with China as the two agreed to resolve their South China Sea dispute through talks.
  • Duterte made his comments in China, where he is visiting with at least 200 business people to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance as relations with longtime ally the United States deteriorate.
  • His trade secretary, Ramon Lopez, said US$13.5 billion in deals would be signed Duterte's efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal ruling in the Hague over South China Sea disputes in favour of the Philippines, marks a reversal in foreign policy since the 71-year-old former mayor took office on June 30.
  • "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 (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 added. "With that, in this venue, your honours, 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 batton-twirling band master at his official welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People, which most leaders do not get.
  • President Xi Jinping, meeting Duterte earlier in the day, called the visit a "milestone" in ties.
  • Xi told Duterte that China and the Philippines were brothers and they could "appropriately handle disputes", though he did not mention the South China Sea in remarks made 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," Xi 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.
  • China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
  • Duterte's tone toward Beijing is in contrast to the language he has used against the United States, after being infuriated by US criticism of his bloody war on drugs.
  • He has called US President Barack Obama a "son of a b****"and told his to "go to hell" while alluding to severing ties with the old colonial power.
  • On Wednesday, to the cheers of hundreds of Filipinos in Beijing, Duterte said Philippine foreign policy was veering towards China. "I will not go to America anymore. We will just be insulted there," Duterte said.
  • "So time to say goodbye my friend."
  • Duterte on Wednesday said the South China Sea arbitration case would "take the back seat" during talks, and that he would wait for the Chinese to bring up the issue rather than doing so himself.
  • Xi said issues that could not be immediately be resolved should be set aside, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
  • China has welcomed the Philippines approaches, even as Duterte has vowed not to surrender any sovereignty to Beijing, which views the South China Sea Hague ruling as null and void.
  • China offered fresh praise for visiting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, lauding "friendly" relations as the combative leader reconfigures his country's diplomatic alliances.
  • Duterte is in China for a four-day trip that is expected to cement his tilt away from Washington and towards Beijing's sphere of influence.
  • Foreign policy under Duterte has dramatically shifted from that pursued under predecessor Benigno Aquino, who took Beijing to an international tribunal over its extensive claims in the South China Sea and won a resounding victory.
  • The move infuriated Beijing but Duterte, who took office in June shortly before the tribunal ruling, has made a point of not flaunting the outcome.
  • At a regular briefing Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing was pleased to move towards resolving the territorial dispute "through consultation and dialogue".
  • "This is how two friendly neighbours should treat each other," she added.
  • "Anyone who truly wishes for peace, stability, development and prosperity in the Asia Pacific" should welcome Duterte's visit.
  • Duterte will meet top leaders including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during his stay, and was also due to meet members of the Filipino community in Beijing later Wednesday.
  • On the eve of his arrival in Beijing, the firebrand former lawyer was quoted by China's official Xinhua news agency state media saying: "Only China can help us."
  • As Duterte has cosied up to Beijing, he has repeatedly denounced the US and President Barack Obama for criticising his deadly war on crime.
  • He has also suspended joint US-Philippine patrols in the South China Sea, and has threatened an end to joint military exercises.
  • The South China Sea is of intense interest to Washington and it has repeatedly spoken out on the various territorial disputes between China and its neighbours over the strategically vital waters.
  • Tensions have risen between the US and China over Washington's so-called "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific, a move that Beijing says is intended to contain it.
  • In an editorial Wednesday, China's nationalist Global Times newspaper said Washington had treated Manila "as a pawn", adding Duterte was now "redesigning Philippine foreign policy based on Philippine interests".
  • Duterte has said his China trip will focus on promoting economic ties.
  • The Philippines is hoping, among other things, that Beijing will repeal a ban on imports of its bananas - an economic sanction intended to punish Manila for its South China Sea stance.

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