PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday tilted further toward closer ties with Beijing, as he continued his attacks on Western powers and the United Nations in what an analyst said was an effort by the President to correct the notion that Manila was too close to Washington.
While proclaiming a “neutral foreign policy,” Duterte said he might visit China more often to discuss issues related to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), including fishing rights for Filipinos in the disputed waters.
“You will see me more often in China … One of the things that I would demand if I go to mainland China is: ‘Give us back our fishing rights.’ That’s one. Ma-negosyo ‘tong pobre kong mga kababayan [So our poor countrymen can make a living],” he said in a speech during the inauguration of a power plant in Misamis Oriental.The President also hinted that he might propose a joint venture between China and the Philippines involving gas resources in the disputed waters, repeating a plan he had mentioned during his presidential campaign.
In a news conference in Malacañang, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar confirmed that Duterte might visit China and Japan next month.
Andanar said the China trip could happen by mid-October while the Japan trip could be scheduled by the end of that month.
Duterte’s first foreign trip last month took him to Laos, where he engaged in a diplomatic spat with US President Barack Obama, and Indonesia.
The 71-year-old Duterte, who assumed office on June 30, has increasingly criticized Manila’s strongest ally, Washington, while seeking to mend ties with Beijing that have been strained by a bitter sea row.
“So, what we do now is we go to China, and rightly so. China is in good faith,” the President said in his Thursday speech.
In seeking closer ties with China, Duterte argued that the Philippines could not rely solely on its treaty alliance with the United States.
However, Duterte stressed that his talks with Chinese officials should only revolve around a ruling by a United Nations-backed court that favored the Philippines and said China had no historical rights to the resource-rich waters.
“We cannot depend on anybody except us. I don’t expect the United States to die for us. So we’ll just have to navigate our way around here,” the President said.
Aside from China and Japan, Duterte is also set to visit Vietnam on September 28 to 29, according to Malacañang.
Normalization of relations
Analyst Ramon Casiple said Duterte’s statements that seemed to favor China could be part of an effort to correct the notion that the country was “too aligned” with the United States.
“Neutral is the new policy but that does not mean that we are now aligning with China. The President could just be correcting the situation because in the past our government almost didn’t want to talk to China,” Casiple said, referring to the foreign policy of the previous administration.
Casiple said the perception of China and other countries in the region was that the Philippines was too aligned with the US and other Western powers including the European Union.
There is a need for the country to become neutral, in order for China to “believe us,” he added.
“If we allow the notion that we are close with the US, how can China believe us?”
UN, EU dared to probe deaths
Duterte on Thursday invited the United Nations’ chief and international human rights experts to investigate allegations of widespread extrajudicial killings, but insisted they also face him in a public debate.
The acid-tongued Duterte had earlier used vulgar language to dismiss criticism from the two organizations and the United States of his bloody war on crime, which has claimed over 3,000 lives since he took office on June 30.
“I have invited the [United Nations human rights] rapporteur, (UN chief) Ban Ki-moon, the EU, their lawyers to come here and investigate me,” Duterte said in his speech, adding the formal invitations would be sent soon.
“But… after they question me, I will question them, one by one in open forum… then you will all see how I will beat those devils.”
The 71-year-old former city mayor won elections in a landslide in May after vowing to eradicate the illegal drug trade in six months, and promising that 100,000 criminals would be killed in the process.
Since getting elected, he has urged police and even civilians to kill drug pushers, and vowed to protect lawmen from prosecution. However he has also insisted that he has not encouraged anything illegal.
Last month, a UN human rights investigator asked to be allowed to visit the Philippines to look into the abuses but the Duterte government swiftly rebuffed her.
An angry Duterte then threatened to pull the Philippines out of the UN, but later said it was just a “joke.”
Duterte has made a series of controversial pronouncements only to retract them later, with his aides saying his remarks were “merely rhetoric” or “hyperbole”.
Duterte has also hit US President Barack Obama and called Ban a “fool” after both expressed concern over the killings.
This week Duterte added the European Union to his list of targets, after the European Parliament condemned “the current wave of extrajudicial executions” in his country.