Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has effusively praised China and its strongman President Xi Jinping on the eve of attending Beijing’s signature Boao Forum.
Speaking in Manila on Monday prior to his trip to China, Duterte said the Philippines needed to deepen ties with Beijing because China is willing to invest in his country.
“I need China. More than anybody else at this point, I need China,” Duterte said. “I simply love Xi Jinping. He understood, he understands my problem and is willing to help, so I would say thank you China.”
Every year, China holds a meeting of regional political and business leaders called the Boao Forum in the southern province of Hainan, similar to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The controversial Philippines President is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the forum, and said on Monday infrastructure investment would be on top of the agenda.
“Our destiny lies in Asia, not in the Middle East but they’re too busy fighting and they don’t have money. If you don’t have money, you’re not my friend. So I go to China. Plenty of money,” Duterte said.
It isn’t the first time Duterte has spoken passionately about shifting closer to Beijing politically. In October 2016, he unexpectedly announced a military and economic “separation” from the United States during a Beijing trip.
While the Philippines leader quickly backed down on his bold declaration, China’s Xi nonetheless signed 13 bilateral deals with him on their first meeting, including on trade and investment.
Duterte close to Trump
The Philippines has been a close ally and partner of the United States for decades, while its relationship with China soured early in 2016 amid the ongoing dispute over territory in the South China Sea.
But under Duterte, who took power in June 2016, the country’s foreign policy has been turned on its head.
Duterte had a fractious relationship with former US President Barack Obama, whose administration pressed the Philippines leader on his bloody war on drugs, which left thousands dead.
In September 2016, Duterte called Obama a “son of a bitch,” leading to the US administration canceling a planned bilateral meeting.
The US relationship has improved significantly under President Donald Trump, who the White House said has a “warm rapport” with the Philippines leader.
During his first meeting with Duterte in November 2017, the two men heaped praise on each other, with Trump saying they had a great relationship.