Most senior US diplomat for Asia in the Philippines to seek clarity on 'mixed signals' from Duterte

Daniel Russel, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Daniel Russel, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. PHOTO: ST FILE

MANILA (REUTERS) - The most senior US diplomat for Asia has arrived in the Philippines and will meet the country's foreign minister on Monday (Oct 24) amid confusion over the status of ties between the two long-time allies, said the US embassy in Manila.

The visit by US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Mr Daniel Russel, is part of a three-nation swing through South-east Asia that also includes Thailand and Cambodia, the US State Department announced on its website.

Mr Russel arrives as confusion lingers over Manila's ties with Washington, with President Rodrigo Duterte saying on Saturday (Oct 22) the United States remains the Philippines' "closest friend", after earlier provoking alarm by announcing his country's"separation" from the United States and realignment with China.

The United States is one of the Philippines' largest trading partners and its closest security ally for about 70 years.

Mr Russel was to meet with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, US embassy press attache Molly Koscina said, without giving details about issues to be discussed.


A Philippine foreign affairs official said Mr Russel and Mr Yasay will discuss the overall bilateral relations of the two allies following Mr Duterte's "separation" statement in China last week.

"The US wants a clarification from the Philippines and what direction the alliance will take," the official told Reuters. "I think the US is confused. It is getting mixed signals from Manila," the Philippine official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Mr Russel is expected to stay in Manila until Tuesday (Oct 25) to meet with government officials and have lunch with Young South-east Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) participants, before leaving for Thailand.

He will be in Thailand until Wednesday (Oct 26) to convey his condolences on the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and meet with Thai officials to discuss bilateral relations and regional issues.

From Thailand, he will fly to Cambodia to meet with government and opposition party officials, civil society organisations, and address a group of YSEALI members.