PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte spent his first full day in China Wednesday, on a state visit that comes as he makes increasing overtures to Beijing while vocally scorning the United States.
Speaking on state-controlled China Central Television News (CCTN), Duterte said no country including the US should “restrain” him from dealing with China, a day after a survey showed that more Filipinos trusted the US than China.
“The basic question of the Filipinos now – I know what’s in their mind – ‘Why is Duterte breaking away from the United States?’ No, I am not breaking away. I just want to be friendly with everybody. You do not constrain, restrain me from doing business with China,” the President said.
“We have always been tied even in matters of armaments and weaponry with the United States. We should not be too constrained to follow the dictates of any other country … Talking of war and violence and the basic question of our relationships with America and with China for that matter, so why should we be afraid? Why should we stick with a certain country?” he added.
The President reiterated that he would no longer allow joint military exercises with the US, the Philippines’ main defense ally and supplier of military hardware.
“Historically we do not import, we do not buy arms from any other country without even looking at the cost, whether it’s more expensive, more compatible with what we have now. And during military exercises, they allow us to use their equipment, their arms, their weaponry, their armaments but after the [war]games they get it back from us. So if there is really an emergency or a sudden … you want to assemble men, their computers, our armaments are simply not compatible. So what’s the use? So what’s the use of going into these useless exercises?” he said.
Duterte’s posture is a stark reversal from the previous administration of Benigno Aquino 3rd, which took Beijing to an international tribunal over its extensive claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and won a resounding victory.
Duterte initially took a hard stance on the issue, vowing to ride a jet ski to the disputed Spratly Islands and plant the Philippine flag there.
But his bravado has since softened and he has shown no sign of seeking to enforce the tribunal ruling issued on July 12, which Beijing does not recognize.
On Thursday, Duterte will meet top leaders including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
“Only China can help us,” he told the official Xinhua news agency Monday.
Asked to explain the Philippines’ pivot toward China, Duterte told CCTN: “Maybe because I’m Chinese, and I believe in sincerity. So I believe in the basic fundamentals of human sincerity.”
He said that the Philippines’ renewal of its ties with China was “the only way to move forward nowadays.”
“I do not think that there’s going to be another cold war,” the President added.
Duterte is in Beijing for a four-day state visit where a number of economic and trade deals are expected to be signed.
The President arrived in Beijing, China on Tuesday night via chartered plane, with flight number PR001.
Duterte is accompanied by a large government delegation composed of Cabinet secretaries and lawmakers, notably House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
Cabinet secretaries and lawmakers are expected to participate in expanded bilateral meetings with Duterte and Xi on Thursday.
The attendance of officials overseeing economic sectors like tourism, infrastructure, agriculture, and trade indicate that economic relations will be a major focus of the trip.
But there’s also a slew of defense and law enforcement officials in the delegation, indicating that national security issues and the fight against illegal drugs will be discussed.
Duterte is the seventh Philippine president to visit China since diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1975.
Ties won’t erode
Also on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said closer ties between the Philippines and China won’t mean a weakening of Manila’s relationship with its allies and traditional partners.
“But we will not hesitate to take action to protect the paramount national interests if other countries will look down at us as somebody that will always be subservient to their national interests,” he said during a luncheon for President Duterte’s delegation to Beijing.
Yasay noted that Manila-Beijing ties have moved past a low point during the previous Aquino administration over Philippines decision to bring the dispute in the West Philippine Sea to the UN-backed arbitration tribunal.
“This is a time for celebration. This is a time to be optimistic. This is a time to be confident as we foster mutual trust and confidence with each other,” Yasay said.