The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has announced his “separation” from the United States.
He made the comment at a business forum in the presence of Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People during a four-day state visit to China.
It follows Mr Duterte’s admission that a close economic partnership with China is his nation’s “only hope” following a cooling of relations with the US.
“Maybe because I am Chinese, I believe in sincerity,” he said in an extended interview with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, when asked why the Philippines had changed its policy towards China.
Since 2012, the two countries have been locked in a fierce territorial dispute involving islands in the South China sea, ever since China denied Philippine fishermen access to crucial waters around Huangyan Island.
Duterte said the South China Sea arbitration case would “take the back seat” during talks, and that he would wait for the Chinese to bring up the dispute rather than doing so himself. “It is not the time to go to war” with China, he said, referring to the disagreement.
“The only hope of the Philippines economically, I’ll be frank with you, is China,” he continued. “This visit [to China] is the defining moment of my presidency.
“I would say that China deserves the kind of respect that China now enjoys.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who Mr Duterte is due to hold talks with on Thursday, described the official visit as a milestone which could “push relations between the two countries back on a friendly footing”, calling the Philippines “brothers” to China.
Mr Duterte pointed out that a quarter of the Philippine population is of Chinese descent, including his own grandfather who hailed from the city of Xiamen, and said that at a recent business forum, “everybody [was] shouting” to accompany him to China.
“This is the start of a souring of relations with America”, he added, before retracting his comment and saying he was not “breaking away from the US” but merely wanted to be “friends with everybody”.
Meanwhile, Beijing has vowed to restore Philippine agricultural exports to China and provide financing for Philippine infrastructure.
Mr Duterte publicly implored President Xi to provide the funds to build a major railroad in the Philippines, “if you can find it in your heart to give it to us”.
In early October, Mr Duterte effectively severed 65 years of military ties between the US and the Philippines by ordering US troops out of the country.
The president, who has been in power since June, has attracted condemnation from the US and EU for encouraging a violent and protracted war on drugs, in which 3,600 have been killed – prompting Mr Duterte to issue expletive-filled dismissals of all who opposed his policies.
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