Philippine President Duterte Eager To Develop New Relationships With China, Russia

Reuters — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday he would visit Russia and China this year to chart an independent foreign policy and “open alliances” with two powers with historic rivalries with the United States.

Duterte said the Philippines was at the “point of no return” in its relations with former colonial ruler the United States, so he wanted to strengthen ties with others, and picked two global powers with which Washington has been sparring with on the international political stage.

He last week declared he would soon – and often – visit China, with which ties remain frosty over a South China Sea arbitration ruling won by the Philippines in July. He said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was expecting him in Moscow.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims.

An arbitration court in The Hague in July invalidated China’s claims to the waterway in a case brought by the Philippines, a ruling that Beijing refuses to recognize.

“I am ready to not really break (U.S.) ties but we will open alliances with China and… Medvedev, he is awaiting there for my visit,” Duterte told reporters, adding he would open up the “other side of the ideological barrier”.

He welcomed investment and shrugged off rating agency Standard and Poor’s concerns last week about the Philippine economy on his watch and his unpredictability.

“Never mind about the ratings,” he said. “I will open up the Philippines for them to do business, alliances of trade and commerce.”

The peso fell to its lowest since 2009 on Monday and foreign investors have dumped local shares for six straight weeks, worried about Duterte’s anti-U.S. rhetoric and brutal war on drugs, which has alarmed rights groups at home and abroad.

Duterte also said he would open up telecoms and airlines, which are two domestic sectors long controlled by local players and criticized for being uncompetitive. He did not elaborate.

The volatile leader’s vitriol against the United States has become a near-daily occurrence and source of both amusement and concern. On Monday he accused Washington of “hypocrisy” and said Americans were still “lording it over us”.

His latest swipe included ruling out participation in a maritime conflict should it be initiated by the United States, despite a 1951 treaty between the two countries under which Duterte said Manila was legally obligated to back Washington.

“I am about to cross the Rubicon between me and the U.S.,” he said,” without elaborating. “It’s the point of no return.”

It is unclear whether Duterte’s outbursts will impact relations between the two counties. Militaries of both sides are due to carry out joint exercises in the first half of October.

The U.S. embassy in Manila on Monday announced two-week deployment of a pair of C130 planes and 100 troops at an air base in the central Philippines, the third of its kind this year, as part of a rotational troops agreement.

Separately, Duterte said the United Nations, European Union and United States would get a free hand to investigate the killings in his anti-narcotics campaign, but only under Philippine laws.

Deaths in the campaign have averaged over 40 a day since Duterte took office on June 30.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato and Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)

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