US-Philippine ties stable despite 'hurtful' remarks

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel speaking to members of the press after a meeting with Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay.
US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel speaking to members of the press after a meeting with Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

But senior US diplomat says Duterte's attacks are 'creating consternation' in several countries

Washington's top diplomat in Asia said yesterday that President Rodrigo Duterte's brash foreign policy statements and attacks on the United States were creating "consternation", but that deep ties between the Philippines and the US were providing stability.

"The succession of controversial statements and comments, and a real climate of uncertainty about the Philippines' intentions have created consternation in a number of countries, not only in mine," US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said shortly after meeting Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay.

He later told reporters: "It is hurtful and mystifying to be called names by a close friend, to be called names by the leader of a wonderful democracy, who we respect and whom we have shared so much history and culture."

He said some of Mr Duterte's comments were reverberating across Filipino communities and boardrooms in the US.

Asked by reporters, Mr Yasay said Mr Russel "did not express concern in the manner you're suggesting, or that he is worried. He wanted clarification and I clarified (Mr Duterte's) stand".

 

He said he told Mr Russel "our thrust… in carrying out our independent foreign policy is to make sure we won't have this kind of dependency or subservience that have always worked against the national interest".

Mr Yasay said he reiterated that the Philippines would not join the US in patrolling disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Mr Russel is in Manila amid confusion over Mr Duterte's foreign policy. The Philippines' 71-year-old President declared during his four-day state visit to China last week a "separation" with the US, his nation's treaty ally since 1951, and a realignment with China, and even Russia.

He walked back from that declaration on Saturday, saying he did not mean to cut diplomatic ties with Washington.

Mr Russel said the US "welcomes a relaxation in relations" between the Philippines and China.

"It's a mistake to think that improved relations between Manila and Beijing come at the expense of the US. That is not the way we think about it," he said. "We don't want countries to choose between the US and China."

Mr Duterte has been trying to engage China as he steers the Philippines away from the US.

He has bristled at US criticisms of the more than 3,400 extrajudicial killings by police and vigilantes that have blighted his war on narcotics.

To show his displeasure, he has told US President Barack Obama to "go to hell", and ended war games and sea patrols over contested waters in the South China Sea between the Philippines and the US.

Mr Russel reiterated US concerns "about the loss of lives" in Mr Duterte's anti-crime drive.

In a news briefing, Mr Duterte's spokesman, Mr Ernesto Abella, said: "The President already made his position clear regarding that, and there is no state-sanctioned policy regarding these alleged extrajudicial killings."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'US-Philippine ties stable despite 'hurtful' remarks'. Print Edition | Subscribe