Reactions to Duterte's remarks on 'separating' from the US -In the US

US-Philippine ties will persist until further clarification, say officials

United States government officials were dismayed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's stunning remarks on a "separation" from the US, but said they intended to persist with ties until they can get further clarification from Manila.

The White House, State Department and Pentagon all said yesterday that they intended to keep the longstanding alliance with the Philippines despite Mr Duterte's announced realignment with China.

"We have important alliance commitments which we intend to keep in the Philippines," said Defence Secretary Ash Carter ahead of his visit to Turkey. "Obviously, any relationship is one of mutuality and we will continue to discuss that with our Philippine counterparts."

Similarly, White House principal deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters that Washington has not received any formal notice from Manila about any change to ties and stressed that the South-east Asian nation remains a strong ally.

"We have not received any official request from Philippine officials to alter any of our many issues where we bilaterally cooperate. I will tell you that we continue to be the Philippines' strongest economic partner," he said.

The Obama administration does not believe that countries have to choose sides between the US and China, he added. "We don't consider this a zero-sum game. We believe that it's in our national security interest when our partners and allies in the region have strong relationships with China, consistent with international norms."

Mr Duterte's remarks in Beijing marked a low point for US-Philippines ties and capped a series of anti-American rhetoric from the firebrand Filipino leader.

There is clearly growing concern about Mr Duterte in Washington even if the first instinct of most Asia experts and government leaders was to dismiss his remarks as posturing that may not necessarily be backed by concrete action. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the US was baffled by what Mr Duterte said but it has seen his remarks retracted before. "We've seen some of this bombastic rhetoric clarified or walked back after the fact. So again, all of that gives us reason to think that there's a purpose in trying to get a better, deeper explanation on this," he said. "It's not clear to us exactly what that means in all its ramifications, so we're going to be seeking a clarification on that."

The US top diplomat to Asia, Mr Daniel Russel, heads to the Philippines this weekend on a previously scheduled trip and the issue of Mr Duterte's comments is now likely to top the agenda. For Asia watchers, the souring of ties between Washington and Manila complicates the US military posture in the South China Sea, but they also note that Mr Duterte will not likely be able to actually pivot away from the US without suffering some political fallout at home.

South-east Asia expert Ernie Bower wrote on Twitter: "Mr Duterte will have to explain to Filipinos if he trades sovereignty, territory and his country's national security for loans from China."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Ties will persist until further clarification, say officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe