Duterte to visit China ‘China has re­peat­edly in­vited me and I have ac­cepted’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte said yes­ter­day he would soon visit China and hoped also to travel to Rus­sia, as he again crit­i­cized long­time ally the United States for “ar­ro­gance”. The mis­sion to China will be Duterte’s first out­side of South­east Asia since as­sum­ing the pres­i­dency on June 30, in a sym­bolic move high­light­ing the im­por­tance he places on im­prov­ing ties with Bei­jing that soured over com­pet­ing claims to the South China Sea.

“China has re­peat­edly in­vited me. I have ac­cepted the of­fer,” Duterte said in a speech at the pres­i­den­tial palace. He gave no spe­cific dates for the visit, but said it would take place be­fore he went to Ja­pan from Oc­to­ber 25 to 27. Duterte said he had orig­i­nally planned to visit Ja­pan, the Philip­pines’ biggest source of for­eign aid, ahead of China.

How­ever he ex­plained that Ja­pan of­fered a “def­i­nite” date, then China told Duterte there was a “va­cancy” ear­lier and so he ac­cepted. Duterte also said that, af­ter Ja­pan, “prob­a­bly I will go to Rus­sia”. Duterte has looked to build closer ties with China and Rus­sia, while launch­ing re­peated tirades against the United States, the Philip­pines’ former colo­nial ruler and de­fense ally.

His tirades have been largely in re­sponse to US crit­i­cism of Duterte’s war on crime, which has claimed more than 3,300 lives and raised fears about ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings. Duterte has can­celled joint pa­trols with the United States in the South China Sea, said he may scrap a de­fense pact that al­lows thou­sands of US troops to ro­tate through the Philip­pines, and threat­ened to even­tu­ally cut ties com­pletely. Duterte has also branded US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama a “son of a whore” for ex­press­ing con­cern about hu­man rights in the drug war. In con­trast, he has de­scribed Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping as “a great pres­i­dent”, and praised China and Rus­sia for show­ing re­spect in not crit­i­ciz­ing his crime crack­down.

Duterte on Tues­day gave an­other lengthy cri­tique of the United States, brand­ing the na­tion as “ar­ro­gant” and pow­er­less to stop Rus­sia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. He also said the Philip­pines gained noth­ing from hold­ing mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with the United States, which have been a main­stay of the de­fense re­la­tion­ship. “What’s the point? They are the only ones ben­e­fit­ing. We are not,” he said, as the al­lies wrapped up a week of war games in­volv­ing about 2,000 troops in the Philip­pines.

Duterte had said they were to be the last of his six-year term, putting on ice the 28 ex­er­cises they hold an­nu­ally. The Philip­pines had long been re­garded as one of Wash­ing­ton’s most loyal al­lies in Asia, with the two na­tions bound by a mu­tual de­fense pact signed in 1951. Duterte’s pre­de­ces­sor Benigno Aquino sought to draw the United States even closer in a bid to counter Chi­nese ef­forts to take con­trol of the South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters close to the Philip­pines and other South­east Asian na­tions, and has in re­cent years built ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands capable of host­ing mil­i­tary bases in dis­puted ar­eas. The 2014 de­fense agree­ment and the joint pa­trols were key to Aquino’s strat­egy to con­tain China. Aquino fur­ther an­gered China by fil­ing a case with an UN-backed tri­bunal in 2013 against Bei­jing’s claims to most of the sea.

In July, shortly af­ter Duterte took of­fice, the tri­bunal ruled in fa­vor of the Philip­pines, say­ing China’s claims had no le­gal ba­sis and its con­struc­tion of ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands in dis­puted waters was il­le­gal. But Duterte vowed not to “taunt or flaunt” the ver­dict and to seek a “soft land­ing” with China on the is­sue. He has launched ne­go­ti­a­tions with China over the dis­pute, a tac­tic re­jected by Aquino. China has wel­comed Duterte’s over­tures. “The clouds are fad­ing away. The sun is ris­ing over the hori­zon and will shine beau­ti­fully on the new chap­ter of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions,” Chi­nese am­bas­sador to Manila Zhao Jian­hua said this month. — AFP

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