‘Time to say goodbye to US,’ Philippines’ Duterte proclaims on historic China visit

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte attends a news conference during his visit in Beijing, China, October 19, 2016. © Jason Lee
It’s “time to say goodbye” to the United States, said Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on a visit to China, where he and President Xi Jinping are turning the recently-frosty tide with bilateral agreements, while Washington now gets the cold shoulder.

Duterte spoke to the press in Beijing on Wednesday, on the eve of talks with Xi. There was scant information about what was to come on Thursday, but Duterte’s conference coincided with talk of unprecedented agreements being written up – particularly the granting to the Philippines the use of Scarborough Shoal territories – a disputed resource-rich area in the South China Sea.

The firebrand Duterte has been slowly edging away from Washington after coming to power in late June. A series of spats and heated remarks finally resulted in his making good on the promise to mend ties with historic rival, China.

“Your stay in my country was for your own benefit. So time to say goodbye, my friend,” Duterte said, as members of the Filipino expat community in Beijing listened in the audience. He was of course referring to the military presence enjoyed by Washington at a number of Filipino bases – something he’s been particularly vocal against since September.

“No more American interference. No more American exercises. What for?” he told the audience.

“I will not go to America anymore. I will just be insulted there,” he added, before doing something no political analyst thought a world leader would ever do once, let alone twice: calling US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” again.

US-Philippines relations have been in a death spiral ever since the Obama administration started voicing concern over Duterte’s tactics in dealing with drug crime. Manila didn’t like Washington’s stance one bit, and Duterte issued a series of fiery remarks warning Obama to stay out of it and stop dictating Philippines policy.

He’s been touting the economic and political benefits of a relationship with China ever since.

“What kept us from China was not our own making. I will charter a new course,” the Philippine leader said as quoted by the PhilStar.

The two countries are expected to sign over two dozen of agreements, including the above-mentioned South China Sea concession – a massive step for China, which was defiant in the face of a Hague court ruling in July, dictating that no one could be the sole claimant of the territories.

Infrastructure takes particular precedence for cash-strapped Manila. There is also energy and communications deals being worked out, including a $3 billion credit from the Bank of China, according to Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, as cited by Bloomberg in Beijing.

“I will not ask but if they offer and if they’ll ask me, you need this aid? Of course, we are very poor,” Duterte confirmed. “You need this railway? Yes sir. And if you can give us a soft loan, give us something like 20 years to pay.”

This break from the US comes after 65 years of close partnership. Expanding US presence in Asia via the Philippines has been one of the pillars of Obama’s regional policy, along with keeping troops in Okinawa, Japan.  

Duterte on Wednesday explained that the China partnership does not entail full military cooperation or indeed joint energy exploration in the South China Sea, where Beijing currently holds the majority stake.

The meeting between Duterte and Xi shouldn’t center so much on the territorial disputes there, Duterte said in the run-up to Thursday’s meeting. But if the Scarborough Shoal deal is anything to go by, China has just turned a former rival into a regional ally.

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