In one of his strongest attacks against the U.S., Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told President Barack Obama to ?go to hell.? Photo: Getty Images
PHILIPPINES President Rodrigo Duterte has arrived in Beijing with a ”make friends, not war” message for China.
Duterte — dubbed The Punisher — has embarked on a four-day visit to the country, aimed at engaging in dialogue and improving diplomacy between the two countries.
He has brought hundreds of businessmen with him, and local media reports deals worth billions of dollars are expected to be announced during the trip.
Shortly after arriving in Beijing, Duterte stressed the South China Sea dispute was “not on the agenda”, despite the conflict being a key source of tension between the two countries.
“It might crop up but it is going to be a soft landing for everyone,” he told reporters. “No impositions.”
That said, Duterte’s arrival comes shortly after he publicly said the Philippines is willing to hold joint military exercises with China and Russia.
During an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television earlier this week, the controversial Philippines leader was asked if he could consider joint military drills with the opposing countries.
“Yes, I will,” he responded. “I have given enough time for the Americans to play with the Filipino soldiers.”
In a recent interview with Xinhua, China’s state news agency, Duterte stressed he prefers negotiation to confrontation.
“There is no sense in going to war. There is no sense fighting over a body of water,” he said. “It is better to talk than war. We want to talk about friendship, we want to talk about co-operation, and most of all, we want to talk about business. War would lead us to nowhere.”
He also made it clear he opposed outside meddling in the disputed region.
“We are not interested in allowing other country to talk. I just want to talk to China,” he said.
“If we can have the things you have given to other countries by the way of assistance, we’d also like to be a part of it and to be a part of the greater plans of China about the whole of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia.
“All that I would need to do is just to talk and get a firm handshake from the officials and say that we are Filipinos and we are ready to co-operate with you, to help us in building our economy and building our country.”
He also stressed he would no longer allow joint exercises with the US, which has traditionally been the country’s closest ally.
“This will be the last. It has been programmed,” he said.
Meanwhile China’s nationalist newspaper The Global Times has just published a new editorial urging Beijing to accept Duterte’s “olive branch”.
The article praised the Philippines president for “taking the public’s attention from the South China Sea back todomestic governance”, and “riling the US” by insisting on a more independent foreign policy.
“We call on China to grasp this major strategic opportunity brought by the Duterte administration,” the editorial reads. “Washington’s strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific has increased China’s diplomatic and economic costs in Southeast Asia, and it is necessary for Beijing to reciprocate Manila for its clear stance of not willing to serve the US’ China strategy.
“It is more effective to address the disputes in a friendly, instead of a confrontational way. China should make this clear to the world to win more respect in the world.”
Following his arrival, Beijing praised the Philippines president for bringing damaged ties back to “the track of dialogue and cooperation”.
But a recent survey has found little support for the emerging superpower among Filipinos.
The September 2016 Social Weather Survey (SWS) examined the population’s level of trust towards seven nations, including the US and China.
The US scored the highest trust rating of +66, which the SWS deemed ‘Very Good’, despite a six-point decline from June.
Australia came second at +47, followed by Japan at +34.
China actually scored the lowest trust net rating of all seven countries at -33, which the SWS deemed ‘Bad’.
Judging by his amicable stance, however, Duterte’s priority is not to reflect the Filipino population’s sentiment.
His move towards China is just the latest blow the leader has dealt to the US. Earlier this month, he made global headlines after he publicly deemed President Barack Obama a “son of a wh*re”. He was later quoted as telling the US leader to “go to hell”.
A month ago, Duterte ordered all US Special Forces to vacate the southern island of Minanao, where they had been assisting the country’s military in the fight against an extremist militant group.
Duterte said America’s presence in the region only worsened the situation, declaring: “For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace”.
He also ordered an end to the joint US-Philippine patrols of the South China Sea, expressing a desire for the country to move away from the US and towards independence.
At the same time, he said he was considering purchasing weapons and military equipment from two nations “where they are cheap and where there are no strings attached and it is transparent”.
According to Bloomberg, the most likely buyers would be China and Russia — the very nations the Philippines is in conflict against over territorial disputes.
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