President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to lead a “soft” and independent course in dealing with its territorial dispute with China, saying he is “not fan” of the United states and its regional policies.
“I am not a fan of the Americans,” Duterte said on Saturday, adding, “Filipinos should be first before everybody else.”
He was speaking to reporters on arrival in his hometown of Davao, after returning from the 29th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was held in Vientiane, Laos.
“In our relations to the world, the Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy. I repeat: The Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy,” the Philippine president emphasized.
The Philippines is involved in a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.
The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in July ruled in a case brought by Manila that China’s claims to sovereignty over the disputed areas in the South China Sea or its resources “had no legal basis.”
The tribunal also accused Beijing of violating the Philippines’ economic and sovereign rights. China, however, rejected the ruling, saying the court had no jurisdiction over the issue.
Duterte’s latest remarks were more of a pragmatic nature than a conciliatory one, as he justified his soft stance on the dispute with China by highlighting his country’s weak military power.
“I assured everybody that there are only two options there: We go to fight, which we cannot afford at all, or talk,” he said, apparently referring to assurances he made during the ASEAN summit.
US President Barack Obama (L) attends the East Asia Summit, part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Vientiane, Laos, September 8, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
His remarks also mark a divergence from the more hostile position held by the US. Washington routinely pops in the regional dispute to take sides with China’s rival claimants.
Obama, whose government wants to ensure “freedom of navigation” in the waterway, is highly supportive of the verdict and brought up the contentious issue at the Laos forum, stressing that the tribunal’s ruling was “binding.”
An independent ally?
On the first day of the summit, the outspoken Duterte had said he was “no American puppet.”
“I am the president of a sovereign country and I am not answerable to anyone except the Filipino people,” he had said.
Duterte’s trip to Laos was also overshadowed by a tirade he launched against US President Barack Obama, in which he said he would swear at Obama if the American president raised the controversial issue of the fight on drugs in the Philippines in a planned meeting between the two leaders.
The affront made Obama cancel an initial meeting, but, after Duterte expressed regret, they briefly met under another schedule.
The US, the Philippines’ colonial ruler until 1946, currently serves as the South Asian country’s main military ally but has also been highly critical of Duterte’s brutal crackdown on crime, particularly drug criminals, which has killed some 3,000 people since he came to power in July.
In this handout photo taken and released by the Indonesian presidential palace on September 9, 2016, Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R) speaks with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a bilateral meeting in Jakarta. (By AFP)
During an overnight visit to Indonesia and a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo on Friday, Duterte also announced that China had promised to help manila build drug rehabilitation centers to treat Filipino users of crystal meth, a highly addictive stimulant.
“Only China has offered to help us,” Duterte said during his brief say in Jakarta.