Rodrigo Duterte tells Vladimir Putin: 'I just want to be friends'

Philippines president says he is not ready to form new military alliances yet, but he is angry at being told what to do by the United States

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The Independent Online

The Philippines intends to move closer to “new friends” Russia and China, following disagreements with the United States, President Rodrigo Duterte has said.

The south-east Asian nation is not yet ready to form new military alliances, he told Russian state-funded TV channel RT, but he did not exclude the possibility of future deals, including arms deals.

“I am not ready for military alliances because we have a treaty that was signed in the '50s," he said, referring to the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty with the United States. "But I am ready to co-operate with my new friends – China and Russia – to make this world more peaceful. The US decided to cancel the procurement of weapons, and I said, 'I have a friend who has plenty'.”

He told RT of his anger about atrocities committed under US occupation, including massacres, and questioned why his country would choose to continue to "follow" US foreign policy.

He said in addition to being hurt by the past, he was unhappy with the way the US continued to boss him around, adding threats and conditions to all exchanges.

"You know, every time the United States criticises us or reprimands us they always connect it with the sentence, 'If you do not do this, if you do not do that, if you do this and we do not like that we, will cut the assistance.' Every time," he said.

Because he was tired of this treatment, he said he had requested a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the 2016 ASEAN conference in October, in which he said he wanted closer relationship with the country.

"I told him my problem, and I said, 'You know, I am not asking for anything. We can survive with nothing. But I just want you to know that we want to be closer to you and China because I do not like what is happening to us [with the United States],'" he said. 

Mr Duterte reported at the time that Mr Medvedev was supportive, responding “that is really how the Americans are" and "we will help you".

Mr Duterte also described visiting China in October to repair relations with the Premier Xi Jinping. The two countries have a history of poor relations, stemming largely from territorial disputes in the South China Sea. But the Philippines president said he found Mr Xi to be “a really great guy” and realised the two countries had missed out on many chances for mutually beneficial co-operation in the past.

Mr Duterte said, given the two countries' fractious history, he had decided the best way to get his Chinese counterpart on side was just to turn up and introduce himself in person.

"Finally I reached the shores of China and we had a very good talk. And you know president Xi Jinping – he’s really a great guy," he said. 

He reiterated that he had not asked Mr Xi, Mr Medvedev or Mr Putin for anything, he had simply extended the hand of friendship.

"In all of our talks, I never said that 'I want this' or 'I want that'. I just want to be friends, to show to the world that I am not limited to a few countries, that I can interact with the rest of the world, because we are a sovereign state. We have to do business and to have diplomatic relations with everybody."

Mr Duterte went on to accuse the United States of hypocrisy for criticising the Philippines for the thousands of extrajudicial vigilante drug killings that have occurred since Mr Duterte took charge of the country.

“Do you know that America is not the signatory of the International Criminal Court?" he said. "And here is a guy threatening me with prosecution…then you see ‘extrajudicial killing’. What is that word? That is a word of a criminal justice system being adopted by the human rights commission. So if you are not a member, what’s your business in mentioning those words?"

But although Mr Duterte made it clear he was leaning towards an alliance with Russia and China rather than with the US, he said he did not know who would make the first move towards solidifying the relationship, or when he would have the opportunity to meet with Mr Putin again, especially as he "can't stand the cold" in Russia.

For the time being, the important thing, he said, was simply friendship.

“I made friends," he told the broadcaster. "I’ve noticed that President Putin, he seldom smiles. [But] you know when we were together, and during the last day he saw me, he went out of his way to shake hands with me... And then he smiled again and shook my hand and said 'I will wait for you in Russia'."

Most people in the Philippines continue to support an alliance with the US, according to polls, but Mr Duterte suggested this down to years of indoctrination. 

“[It is] because [of] having been a colony for 50 years," he said. "It should not surprise you. It’s ingrained in the genealogy of the Filipinos. But, little by little I’ve been telling them, I made this decision [to move away from being allied with the United States]. I think the Filipinos know the reason why in their hearts."

He said the Philippines did not need US support – "we are not a nation of beggars" – and the country should not interfere in his affairs. 

However, Mr Duterte did offer a slither of hope to those invested in future US- Philippines relations. As in the past, he suggested an affinity with President-elect Donald Trump.

“I’m not at liberty to make it public, but there are [positive] feelings now [towards Mr Trump], even [among] retired generals," he said. "They wrote me a long letter, and the last sentence is that, 'there is no doubt in our minds that we can be great friends again and reset the whole thing'."