Philippines’ Duterte in China announces split with US

Filipino president says he prefers “character of an Oriental” after meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared the Philippines’ “separation” from long-standing ally the United States during a visit in Beijing as he rebalances his country’s diplomacy towards China.

Duterte’s comments came after he met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square on Thursday. The two also pledged to enhance trust and friendship and played down a maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

“I announce my separation from the United States, both in military but economics also,” Duterte announced at a meeting of Filipino and Chinese businessmen in Beijing.

The two leaders strode side-by-side down a red carpet inspecting an honour guard with children cheering.

Duterte is in China on a four-day trip seen as confirming his tilt away from Washington and towards Beijing’s sphere of influence – and its deep pockets.

Xi called the two countries “neighbours across the sea” with “no reason for hostility or confrontation”, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The two leaders held “extensive” and “amicable” official talks and oversaw the signing of 13 bilateral deals, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said his country and China will sign $13.5bn in deals this week. He did not elaborate.

Separately, the Philippines Presidential Communications Office said Xi committed more than $9bn in low-interest loans to the country, with about one third of that coming from private banks. About $15m in loans will go towards drug rehabilitation programmes.

Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Beijing, said Duterte’s visit was “very significant” and a “diplomatic victory” for China, with the Philippines agreeing to resume bilateral talks after years of confrontation.

“A visit like this would have been impossible just six months ago, when the war of words between Manila and Beijing was at its height.”

Richard Javad Heydarian, a political analyst, said by declaring a strong alliance with China, Duterte is going against the Filipino people’s inclination towards the US.

“A survey just came out yesterday, which says that the US enjoys a plus 66 net approval rating. China has a negative 31 favourability rating,” Heydarian told Al Jazeera.

He also said the Philippine military is “very predisposed towards the United States, while very critical towards China”.

Since 1951, the Philippines has maintained a defence treaty with the US, which pledges that both countries would come to each other’s defence in case of an armed attack.

The White House said on Thursday the Philippine government has not officially asked to end any security or economic ties between the US and Manila.

“We have not received any official requests from Filipino officials to alter any of our many issues where we bilaterally cooperate,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters.

‘Loud’ and ‘rowdy’

Under Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, the China and the Philippines were at loggerheads over the South China Sea – where Beijing has built a series of artificial islands – but since taking office in June the new head of state has changed course.

“Both sides agreed that the South China Sea issue is not the sum total of the bilateral relationship,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told reporters.

The two sides agreed to return to the approach used five years ago of seeking a settlement through bilateral dialogue, Liu said. Read more…

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