Duterte says he is 'not a fan' of the US

Philipinnes President Rodrigo Duterte arrives to a gala dinner as part of the Asean, at the National Convention Center in Vientiane, Laos, on Sept 7, 2016.
Philipinnes President Rodrigo Duterte arrives to a gala dinner as part of the Asean, at the National Convention Center in Vientiane, Laos, on Sept 7, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

DAVAO (Philippines) • Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, saying he was "not a fan" of the United States, vowed yesterday to steer an independent course for the key Asian ally and refrain from confronting territorial rival China.

The incendiary leader made the comments after a controversial first foreign trip and spectacular falling out with US President Barack Obama.

"I am not a fan of the Americans... Filipinos should be first before everybody else," Mr Duterte said upon arrival in his hometown of Davao city yesterday.

"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 President's trip to a summit in Laos was overshadowed by his verbal tirade, which saw Mr Obama cancel a planned meeting. The pair met briefly later after Mr Duterte expressed regret.

The US, Manila's main military ally and the Philippines' colonial ruler until 1946, has criticised Mr Duterte's brutal crackdown on crime, which has claimed 3,000 lives since he took office in July and drawn condemnation from the United Nations.

Mr Obama has urged the Filipino leader to conduct his crime war "the right way" and protect human rights, but Mr Duterte has dismissed it as being none of America's business.

The two leaders also subtly differed on how to proceed after an international tribunal in July outlawed most of China's claims to the strategic South China Sea, including areas that overlap with those of the Philippines and other neighbours.

Mr Obama, whose government wants to ensure freedom of navigation in the waterway, stressed that the tribunal's ruling was "binding" and could not be ignored by Beijing, which has rejected it.

Mr Duterte favours a "soft landing" for the issue and said it would be counter-productive for his militarily weak nation, which hosts small units of US forces, to confront China or undertake actions that could lead to armed conflict.

On Friday during a visit to Indonesia, Mr Duterte announced China had pledged to help build drug rehabilitation centres to treat Filipino crystal meth users.

Law enforcement officials believe criminal gangs in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong supply most of the illegal and highly addictive stimulants to the Philippines.

"Only China has offered to help us," said Mr Duterte.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 11, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte says he is 'not a fan' of the US'. Print Edition | Subscribe