Duterte de­clares split with U.S. on China trip

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Christo­pher Bodeen and Gil­lian Wong

BEI­JING — Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte an­nounced that his coun­try is sep­a­rat­ing from the U.S. in a speech be­fore a Bei­jing eco­nomic fo­rum Thurs­day, af­ter hand­ing China a ma­jor diplo­matic vic­tory by agree­ing to re­sume di­a­logue on their South China Sea ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute fol­low­ing months of ac­ri­mony.

The rap­proche­ment be­tween the Asian na­tions could widen a po­lit­i­cal rift be­tween the United States and the Philip­pines, whose re­cently elected leader has made no se­cret of his an­tipa­thy for Amer­ica and or­dered an end to joint ma­neu­vers be­tween their mil­i­taries.

“Your honors, in this venue, I an­nounce my sep­a­ra­tion from the United States both in mil­i­tary and eco­nomics,” Duterte said. His re­marks were met with ap­plause.

In Wash­ing­ton, State Depart­ment spokesman John Kirby said Duterte’s re­marks were “in­ex­pli­ca­bly at odds with the very close re­la­tion­ship we have with the Filipino peo­ple as well as the gov­ern­ment there on many dif­fer­ent lev­els, not just from a se­cu­rity per­spec­tive.”

Kirby said the top U.S. diplo­mat for Asia, Daniel Rus­sel, is trav­el­ing to Manila this week­end and would hold con­ver­sa­tions with Filipino gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

“We are go­ing to be seek­ing an ex­pla­na­tion of ex­actly what the pres­i­dent meant when he talked about sep­a­ra­tion from us,” Kirby said. “It’s not clear to us ex­actly what that means and all its ram­i­fi­ca­tions.

“It isn’t just the United States that is baf­fled by this rhetoric,” Kirby said. “We have heard from many of our friends and part­ners in Philip­pines leader Ro­drigo Duterte takes a swipe at the U.S. while em­brac­ing China at a fo­rum Thurs­day in Bei­jing. the re­gion who are like­wise con­fused.”

De­spite Duterte’s in­creas­ingly sharp crit­i­cism of the United States, Kirby said the two coun­tries’ 70-year al­liance hasn’t been af­fected. “We re­main rock solid in our com­mit­ment in the mu­tual de­fense treaty we have with the Philip­pines. That hasn’t changed,” he said.

Fol­low­ing talks in Bei­jing be­tween Duterte and his Chi­nese coun­ter­part Xi Jin­ping, a se­nior Chi­nese diplo­mat an­nounced the sides had agreed to re­store the full range of con­tacts, although he said the lead­ers touched only briefly on the South China Sea.

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

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

That was fol­lowed with an an­nounce­ment by Philip­pine Trade Sec­re­tary Ra­mon Lopez at a bi­lat­eral eco­nomic fo­rum that his coun­try and China will sign $13.5 bil­lion worth of deals this week. He did not elab­o­rate.

Sep­a­rately, the Philip- pines Pres­i­den­tial Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Of­fice said Xi com­mit­ted more than $9 bil­lion in low-in­ter­est loans to the coun­try, with about a third of the loan of­fer com­ing from pri­vate banks. About $15 mil­lion in loans will go to­ward drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams.

In open­ing re­marks to his talks with Xi, Duterte hailed a warm­ing of re­la­tions with China.

“China has been a friend of the Philip­pines and the roots of our bonds are very deep and not eas­ily sev­ered,” he said. “Even as we ar­rive in Bei­jing, close to win­ter, this is a spring­time of our re­la­tion­ship.”

Xi, who greeted Duterte with mil­i­tary honors at the Great Hall of the Peo­ple, the seat of the cer­e­mo­nial leg­is­la­ture in Bei­jing, said the meet­ing had “mile­stone sig­nif­i­cance.”

In a ref­er­ence to the South China Sea ten­sions, Xi said that “although we have weath­ered storms, the ba­sis of our friend­ship and our de­sire for co­op­er­a­tion has not changed.”

While not men­tion­ing the South China Sea specif­i­cally, Xi said that the sides could set aside “is­sues on which an agree­ment is hard to reach” in their dis­cus­sions, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency.

WU HONG/EPA

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