President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands as they attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday. Mr. Duterte’s announcement of his country’s separation from the U.S. and desire for more relations with China and Russia has apparently warmed the cockles of Beijing’s heart and comes as a shock to Washington.
Beijing’s take: an elected leader of a sovereign state has every right to make “independence choices.”
A jubilant China on Friday defended Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to “separate” from the United States, saying as an elected leader of a sovereign state he has every right to make “independence choices“.
“Duterte is elected by the people. We believe he will make choices independently which benefits the Philippines and its people in mind,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a media briefing here reacting to confusion and concern caused by Mr. Duterte’s remarks in the U.S.
“The sovereign state Philippines can make decisions and policies based on its own interests and we respect that,” she said defending Mr. Duterte’s U-turn virtually ending the Philippines alliance with the U.S. and turn to Beijing.
China, Russia in, U.S. out?
In a shocking announcement after his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr. Duterte told a meeting of Chinese and Philipino business people on Thursday that “I announce my separation from the United States. Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost.”
In the meeting attended among others by Chinese Vice Premier at Zhang Gaoli, Mr. Duterte said “I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to [President Vladimir] Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines, and Russia. It’s the only way.”
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the America was “baffled by this rhetoric” and that Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel would be in Manila this weekend and would try to get some answers.
“We are going to be seeking an explanation of exactly what the President meant when he talked about separation from the U.S.,” BBC quoted Mr. Kirby as saying.
China has virtually embraced Mr. Duterte, who decided to visit Beijing after his bitter spat with the U.S. over his controversial violent war on drug-smugglers.
China to invest $13.5 billion
Filipino officials said the two countries on Thursday signed 13 agreements and China had promised to invest $13.5 billion in various Philippines.
China is facing severe pressure since July this year after an international tribunal struck down its claims on the South China Sea (SCS).
Asked on Friday whether China has imposed any condition on Mr. Duterte that the Philippines has to reject The Hague arbitration verdict on the SCS delivered in response to Manila’s petition, Ms. Hua said “China’s stand on the so called arbitration case has been made very clear.”
“I can tell you that in the past 41 years China and the Philippines had consensus on the SCS issue. We should stick to this political wisdom and pass it on as a successful practice and regard it foundation for the future bilateral relations.”
‘Will meet common aspiration’
“For some known reason there have been some twists and turns in China-Philippines ties and after this visit, the China and the Philippines have returned to the right track resolving the SCS through bilateral dialogue. We believe this meets the common aspiration of the regional people and the two countries,” she said.
The joint statement issued after Duterte-Xi talks said: “Both sides exchange views on issues regarding the SCS. Both sides affirm that contentious issues are not the sum total of the China-Philippines bilateral relationship. Both sides exchange views on the importance of handling the disputes in the SCS in an appropriate manner.”
Both sides also reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability, freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the SCS addressing their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force.
The two countries also decided to restore defence ties.
SCS row shelved: Chinese daily
An editorial in China’s state-run Global Times said the SCS issue has been shelved.
“The maritime disputes [between China and the Philippines] appear to have been shelved, replaced by pragmatic cooperation projects worth hundreds of million dollars, as China will be among the most important investors in infrastructure in the Philippines.”
“The SCS is embracing a brand-new landscape. It’s a worrisome gesture. Maritime disputes between SCS claimants have been obsessively exploited and manipulated by irrelevant forces driven by huge interests.
“Those forces want to maintain the status quo and further stir confrontation between China and the Philippines. The sudden shift puts them on the back foot. Will they give up their previous pursuits to help consolidate the Sino-Philippine rapport?” it said.
“Many worry that the U.S. and Japan will not. Without being pressured by so-called threats from China, the Philippines has publicly announced its decision to suspend joint patrols and drills with the U.S.,” it said.
Mr. Duterte’s stand on the SCS and the U.S. was expected to unravel further as he is set to visit Japan in the next few days.
‘U.S., Japan may pressure Duterte’
“Public opinion conjectures that the U.S. may pressure the Duterte government and that Japan will try to turn Duterte around during his upcoming Tokyo visit,” the editorial said.