Manila's ties with US at point of no return, says Duterte

Mr Duterte said the Philippines was at the point of no return in its relations with the US, so he wanted to strengthen ties with others.
Mr Duterte said the Philippines was at the point of no return in its relations with the US, so he wanted to strengthen ties with others. PHOTO: EPA

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday said he would visit Russia and China this year to chart an independent foreign policy and "open alliances" with the two powers with historic rivalries with the United States.

Mr Duterte said the Philippines was at the "point of no return" in its relations with former colonial ruler the US, so he wanted to strengthen ties with others, and picked two global powers with which Washington has been sparring on the international political stage.

He declared last week that he would soon - and often - visit China, with which relations remain frosty over a South China Sea arbitration ruling won by the Philippines in July. He also said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was expecting him in Moscow.

"I am ready to not really break (US) ties, but we will open alliances with China and... Medvedev, he is awaiting there for my visit," Mr Duterte told reporters, adding that he would open up the "other side of the ideological barrier".

He also said he welcomed investment and shrugged off rating agency Standard and Poor's concerns last week about the Philippine economy on his watch and his unpredictability.

"Never mind about the ratings," he said. "I will open up the Philippines for them to do business, alliances of trade and commerce."

Meanwhile, the peso yesterday hit a seven-year low to the US dollar and foreign investors pulled out from local shares for a 23rd straight day, which analysts said was due to growing uncertainty over Mr Duterte's handling of what has been one of Asia's best-performing economies in recent years.

Philippine stocks fell 1.18 per cent to close at 7,632.46 points, and the peso was down 0.5 per cent to 48.25 to the US dollar.

Mr Duterte said he would open up telecoms and airlines, which are two domestic sectors long controlled by local players and criticised for being uncompetitive.

He also accused Washington of "hypocrisy" and said Americans were still "lording it over us".

His latest swipe included ruling out participation in a maritime conflict should it be initiated by the US, despite a 1951 treaty between the two countries under which Mr Duterte said Manila was legally obligated to back Washington. "I am about to cross the Rubicon between me and the US," he said, without elaborating. "It's the point of no return."

It is unclear whether his outbursts will affect relations between the two counties.

Militaries of both sides are due to carry out joint exercises in the first half of October. And the US Embassy in Manila yesterday announced a two-week deployment of a pair of C-130 planes and 100 troops at an air base in the central Philippines, the third of its kind this year, as part of a rotational troop agreement.

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

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Manila to step up ties with Russia and China'. Print Edition | Subscribe