Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s highly-anticipated first official visit to China certainly hasn’t disappointed thus far. He’s been in Beijing for just two days, and already he’s disavowed the United States of America and waxed rhapsodic about his country’s budding romance with China.
Since arriving in Beijing on Tuesday, Duterte has been given the red carpet treatment like China gives few other world leaders, featuring marching bands, flag wavers, and an official greeting ceremony outside of the Great Hall of the People.
Duterte appeared to repay this generosity at a forum inside the Great Hall of the People on Thursday. Telling Phillippine businessmen, Chinese officials and Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli that:
In this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States. Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost.
I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.
Later he added that while he will not ask for aid from China, he will gladly accept it, but as for the Philippines’ former principal ally:
“I will not go to America anymore. We will just be insulted there, so time to say goodbye my friend.”
Duterte even declared that he would literally refuse to go to the US while president:
“So I’ll try to figure out a new foreign policy. America? I cannot go there because they won’t give me a visa.”
Duterte is in Beijing for a four-day visit along with more than 200 Philippine business people hoping to bargain infrastructure, trade and tourism deals, but not South China Sea sovereignty. In an exclusive interview with Xinhua before his visit, Duterte declared that, “Only China can help us.”
And it seems that Chinese President Xi Jinping is interested in helping. On Thursday, Xi agreed that the two countries could “temporarily put aside” their differences in the South China Sea and work to improve bilateral ties. This may well be the beginning of a beautiful friendship:
“China and the Philippines are neighbors across the sea and the two peoples are blood brothers,” Xi told Duterte.
“Even as we arrive in Beijing close to winter, this is the springtime of our relationship,” Duterte told Xi in return.
According to SCMP, the two leaders have also put pen to paper to sign 13 agreements on issues ranging from infrastructure to trade to maritime security and drug control. Once again, the Philippines is free to sell its bananas to China, and China may soon begin helping the Philippines build railroads. Duterte’s trade secetary said that $13.5 billion in deals would be signed before the president left on Friday, Reuters reports.
The visit continues an apparent pivot by the Philippine leader away from the United States and towards China. While the US and the European Union have condemned Duterte’s aggressive crackdown on the illegal drug trade that has killed thousands of suspected drug dealers and users, China has voiced its support for the controversial anti-drug campaign. For that, Duterte expressed his gratitude last week.
“Some other countries know we are short of money, (but) instead of helping us, all they had to do was just to criticize,” Duterte said. “China never criticizes. They help us quietly, and I said that’s why it’s part of the sincerity of the people.”
Even with all these kind words, many Chinese and Americans observers still doubt the sincerity of Duterte’s courtship of China and rejection of the US, particularly with the issue of control over Scarborough Shoal still unresolved — however, earlier this week, Reuters reported that Philippine fishermen may be given access to the rich fishing waters around the reefs that China seized back in 2012.
The status quo is looking a bit shaky. Huh?