LIMA, Peru: President Rodrigo Duterte debuted on the world stage on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) with a pledge to support a China-led development of Asia while opening a new gateway to Europe through Russia.
Duterte met for the first time with his “hero” Russian President Vladimir Putin, lashing out at the West for its “hypocrisy” and “bullying” of small nations like the Philippines.
He also reconnected with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who invited the Philippines to join the summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) emerging nations next year in Xiamen.
In a 45-minute meeting at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Peruvian capital Lima, Duterte told Putin that while the Philippines had been identified with the West as a former American colony, the Cold War no longer stood between the Philippines and Russia.
“It was good [while]it lasted,” Duterte said of the historical ties between Manila and Washington.
“Of late, I see a lot of these Western nations bullying small nations. And not only that, they are into so much hypocrisy,” he said during his meeting with Putin.
Since taking office in June, Duterte has upended US-Philippines ties, repeatedly saying he was shifting toward China and Russia as he embarks on an “independent foreign policy.”
Following Western criticism of his war on drugs, Duterte ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to restrict joint exercises and naval patrols with the US military, and to buy arms from Moscow and Beijing instead of American suppliers.
Before leaving for Peru on Thursday, Duterte said he was willing to join a “new world order” if China and Russia would take the lead.
Saying he had been looking forward to meeting the Russian leader, Duterte told Putin of his wish for the Philippines to “be part of Europe.”
“Despite the distance, we’ve been longing to be part of Europe especially in commerce and trade around the world,” Duterte said.
Forced to contribute
Duterte told Putin Western powers forced the Philippines to contribute soldiers to their wars, citing in particular the conflict in the Middle East in the 2000s.
“And they seem to start a war but are afraid to go to war. That is what is wrong with America and the others. They’ve been waging wars in so many places – in Vietnam, in Afghanistan and in Iraq for one single reason that there was a weapon of mass destruction, and there was none,” he said.
Duterte cited the case of Angelo de la Cruz, a Filipino truck driver who was kidnapped in July 2004 by Iraqi insurgents fighting the US-led assault against of Saddam Hussein.
De la Cruz’s kidnappers had demanded the pullout of Philippine troops in Baghdad in exchange for his release. The government of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo acceded to the demand.
“From that time on, the Americans made it hard for us,” Duterte said.
Duterte invited to Russia
During the meeting, Putin invited Duterte to go to Russia, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. told reporters.
Putin congratulated Duterte for his election “triumph” on a day that coincided with “the great patriotic victory” of the Allied Powers over the Nazis.
The Russian leader then credited Duterte for laying the groundwork for stronger ties between Manila and Moscow.
“Mr. President, this year marks the 40th anniversary since diplomatic ties between our countries … Historically, it’s quite a short period of time. Well, you have been able to do a lot in a short period of time in terms of developing the … partnership between our countries and with respect to promoting greater trust and confidence between us,” Putin said.
Duterte later assured his Chinese counterpart he would align the Philippines’ foreign policy toward a China-led economic development of Asia.
“As I have given you my word, we will cooperate with you. With my thrust of an independent foreign policy, we will find ourselves mutually agreeing in so many things,” Duterte said.
Duterte first met his Chinese counterpart in a state visit to Beijing last month. He thanked Xi for the “warm hospitality and excellent arrangements” extended to his official delegation during the visit.
He then invited Xi to visit the Philippines at “a mutually agreeable date.”
The President’s four-day state visit to China last month signaled a fresh start in bilateral relations that had been strained by a maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The two countries agreed that disputes in the South China Sea were not the sum of their bilateral relations, and that they would restore diplomatic and defense consultations.
After Duterte’s state visit, Filipino fishermen were given access by the Chinese Coast Guard to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales province, a traditional and rich fishing ground of Filipino fishermen.
Yasay said the Chinese assured Duterte that Filipino fishermen would continue to have access to Panatag. China offered training in fish culture.
The two leaders also discussed cooperation in the agricultural sector and the beefing up of China’s imports of agricultural products. Also, the lifting of the Philippine ban on Chinese tourists and China’s hosting of the BRICS conference.