Duterte declares split with U.S. on China trip
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.