18 July 2019
President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines is at the "point of no return" in relations with the United States, its former colonial ruler. Photo: AFP
President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines is at the "point of no return" in relations with the United States, its former colonial ruler. Photo: AFP

Philippines’ Duterte wants to open alliances with Russia, China

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he will 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 is at the “point of no return” in relations with the US, its former colonial ruler, so he wants to strengthen ties with others, and picked two global powers that have been sparring with Washington on the international political stage, Reuters reports.

Last week he said he will visit China, with which ties remain frosty over a South China Sea arbitration ruling won by the Philippines in July.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is also expecting him in Moscow, Duterte added.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than US$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 Beijing refuses to recognize.

“I am ready to not really break [US] ties but we will open alliances with China and … Medvedev,” Duterte told reporters, adding he will open up the “other side of the ideological barrier”.

Saying he welcomes foreign investment, he shrugged off rating agency Standard & Poor’s concerns last week about the Philippine economy on his watch.

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

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Philippine government had not contacted the US about the comments made by Duterte.

US cooperation with the Philippine government remains strong and the US has not seen anything that would indicate a shift by Manila, Toner said at a daily news briefing.

“They’re a sovereign nation and we’re certainly not going to hold them back from pursuing closer relations with either of those countries … It’s not a zero-sum game,” he said.

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

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

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

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