In China, Duterte announces split with US: ‘America has lost’

Updated 7:29 PM EDT, Thu October 20, 2016
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Story highlights

NEW: White House spokesman: No request has been made to change alliance

"I've realigned myself in your ideological flow," Duterte says in Beijing

(CNN) —  

Rodrigo Duterte left no room for doubt about where his allegiance lies.

In a state visit aimed at cozying up to Beijing as he pushes away from Washington, the Philippine President announced his military and economic “separation” from the United States.

“America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow,” he told business leaders in Beijing on Thursday. “And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

Duterte didn’t provide details about how he’d break away from the United States, or what the separation could entail.

US officials stressed the long history of diplomatic, military and financial ties between the two countries.

“We have not received any requests from officials to change our alliance,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reports aboard Air Force One Thursday.

In China, leaders said they were ready to start a new chapter.

US seeks clarity on ‘separation’

A gamble

Relations between China and the Philippines had soured over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

But now Duterte is taking a different tack, pushing that issue to the background as he tries to forge closer ties with China.

Will the gamble pay off?

So far, it seems to be, said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science professor at De La Salle University, Manila.

The usually brash and outspoken Duterte appeared much more statesmanlike in China than he has on previous trips overseas, said Heydarian.

“Duterte has been careful not to slight his hosts, he’s been very deferential to the Chinese. It’s raised eyebrows in the Philippines but pleased people in China,” he said.

Deals signed

Chinese President Xi Jingping welcomed Duterte with full military honors at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Thursday.

He called the two countries “neighbors across the sea” and said they’d agreed to achieve “full improvement” in bilateral ties, state media reported.

The two leaders signed some 13 bilateral deals including pacts on trade, investment, tourism, crime and drug prohibition, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua.

However, there was no specific agreement about the South China Sea, where the two have overlapping maritime claims. They agreed to address the matter through talks, according to Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin.

Pivot

Duterte’s pivot toward China comes as relations with long-time ally the United States are at an all-time low.

At a news conference in Laos in September, he called US President Barack Obama a son of a bitch, when asked what he would say if Obama was critical about his anti-drug efforts, which critics say violate human rights. Since Duterte took office, hundreds of drug dealers and users have been killed in police operations.

The two leaders both attended the ASEAN summit a few days later. They didn’t speak and only briefly shook hands.

Earlier in October, President Duterte confirmed that his country would not participate in joint military drills with the US that are set for next year. He did say, however, that the treaty alliance with the US would remain intact.

By contrast, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs praised Duterte’s war on drugs this week, according to state broadcaster CCTV, saying he takes the fundamental interests and welfare of the Philippines’ people into consideration.

It’s unclear how Duterte’s latest statement could alter ties with the United States.

Asked to respond to the announcement Thursday, US National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said the United States and the Philippines share a long list of security interests and a 70-year history of “rich people-to-people ties.”

And the United States is one of the Philippines’ strongest economic partners, she said. US companies have invested more than $4.7 billion in the Philippines.

Support?

Duterte has huge popularity ratings in the Philippines but his tilt away from Washington may not be supported by most Filipinos.

A recent opinion poll of 1,200 adults found that the trust rating of the United States stood at +66 compared with -33 for China.

“Duterte has made extra effort to sell China as a benevolent partner but it’s a tough sell,” said Heydarian.

Ties with China hit a low in July, when the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled that China’s historical claim to the disputed waters was invalid.

China refused to participate in the tribunal’s proceedings and, in the wake of the ruling, Chinese boycotted Philippines-grown dried mango.

It was a huge victory that Duterte has chosen not to capitalize on despite once pledging to ride into the South China Sea on a jet ski while carrying the Philippines flag.

Instead, said Heydarian, Duterte has chosen to focus on China’s deeper pockets in the hope of lucrative trade deals.

CNN’s Yuli Yang, Bex Wright, Kevin Liptak and Greg Clary contributed to this report.