Philippine minister "clarifies" Duterte comments, says trade with US safe

PHOTO: AFP

The Philippines will maintain trade and economic ties with the United States, Trade Minister Ramon Lopez said on Friday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte announced his "separation" from Washington.

Duterte made his comments in Beijing, where he was paving the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance as relations with long-time ally Washington deteriorate.

"With that, in this venue, your honours, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States," Duterte told Chinese and Philippine business people to applause at a forum in the Great Hall of the People.

"Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also."

Duterte's efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal in the Hague ruled that Beijing did not have historic rights to the South China Sea in a case brought by the previous administration in Manila, marks a reversal in foreign policy since the 71-year-old former mayor took office on June 30.

Lopez sought to explain Duterte's comments.

"Let me clarify. The president did not talk about separation," Lopez told CNN Philippines in Beijing.

"In terms of economic (ties), we are not stopping trade, investment with America. The president specifically mentioned his desire to strengthen further the ties with China and the ASEAN region which we have been trading with for centuries." He said the Philippines was "breaking being too much dependent on one side".

"But we definitely won't stop the trade and investment activities with the West, specifically the US"

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.

ANTI-US PROTEST

Duterte's tone towards China is in stark 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 him to "go to hell". On Wednesday, about 1,000 anti-US protesters gathered outside the US Embassy in Manila calling for the removal of US troops from the southern island of Mindanao.

The United States, a former colonial power, has seen Manila as an important ally in its "rebalance" of resources to Asia in the face of a rising China. The US Embassy press attache in Manila, Molly Koscina, said Duterte's statements were creating uncertainty.

"We've seen a lot of this sort of troubling rhetoric recently which is inexplicably at odds with the warm relationship that exists between the Filipino and American people and the record of important co-operation between our two governments," she told Reuters in an email. "We have yet to hear from the Philippine government what Duterte's remarks on 'separation' might mean, but it is creating unnecessary uncertainty."

She also said the United States would honour alliance commitments and treaty obligations with the Philippines. "And, of course, we expect the Philippines to do the same." US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said Washington intended to keep to its alliance commitments to the Philippines.

"Obviously any relationship is one of mutuality and we will continue to discuss that with our Philippine counterparts," he told reporters before landing in Turkey. "That's not new today, but that's our alliance relationship with the Philippines."

"NO RUSH TO INTERPRET"

Marie Banaag, assistant secretary at the Philippine presidential communications office, urged the public to wait for guidelines before interpreting Duterte's announcement. "There is no rush for us to interpret the speech of the president as we have to wait for guidelines that would be coming from him, from the Department of Foreign Affairs, as soon as they come back," she said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked in Beijing about Duterte's comments, said countries should not resort to win-lose mentalities.

"As far as China is concerned, we think that at present in international relations we should not have Cold War thinking, it's either you or me, you win I lose, that kind of zero-sum game," she told a regular press briefing.

"We have always developed relations with other countries in the spirit of openness, inclusiveness, mutually win-win, not aimed at, not excluding and not affecting other countries developing normal relations with each other." Duterte said in Beijing that he had "realigned (himself) in your ideological flow" and "America has lost now".

"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," he said. "It's the only way." Wrangling over territory in the South China Sea, where neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims, has consumed China-Philippines relations in recent years.

China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and in 2012 it seized the disputed Scarborough Shoal and denied Philippine fishermen access to its fishing grounds.

In a joint statement issued by China's official Xinhua news agency, China and the Philippines said it was important to address differences in the South China Sea "without resorting to the threat or use of force".

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