The Philippine’s recently elected president, Rodrigo Duterte, has signaled a shift away from his country’s long-standing alliance with the United States toward China.
Duterte in Beijing
During a late October visit to Beijing Duterte announced that he was pursuing a “separation” from the United States and moving closer to China and Russia.
His announcement caused no little frustration in Washington since the United States has been trying to rally countries in the region to stand up to a major Chinese push for control of the South China Sea. The Philippines was considered a key partner in that effort.
Confusion in Washington
Duterte’s move toward China contradicts his own government’s efforts to build stronger diplomatic and security ties with Washington. Confusion about his statement was apparent in Washington.
“We are going to be seeking an explanation of exactly what the president meant when he talked about separation,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby. “It’s not clear to us exactly what that means in all its ramifications.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters, “We believe that it’s in our national security interest when our partners and allies in the region have strong relationships with China.”
“Good foreign policy should be grounded in reality, but the White House just said that the Philippines aligning with China and dismissing the United States is in our national security interests,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican. “If that’s the case, I’d like to know how the White House defines ‘interests’ and ‘allies.’”
A split with Manila?
Of note is that President Duterte stopped short of saying he would formally revoke a 70-year-old treaty alliance with Washington. But that may be in the offing. China has signaled its approval by giving the Philippine fishing industry access to the South China Sea.
Sources: The Washington Times