The controversial president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, announced what he called his “separation” from the U.S. Thursday in his latest speech aimed at rankling Washington.
“I announce my separation from the United States both in military and economics also,” Duterte announced to a cheering crowd in Beijing. He added, "America does not control our lives. Enough bulls---," according to AFP.
Duterte has previously said the Philippines would stop joint military exercises with the U.S., and he opposes joint patrols with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea. But U.S. officials say its commitment to the treaty alliance with the Philippines remains "ironclad."
"We are going to be seeking an explanation of exactly what the president meant when he talked about separation from the U.S.," said State Department spokesman John Kirby. "It's not clear to us exactly what that means in all its ramifications."
President Duterte is currently in China on a four day trip, in an effort not only to improve relations with the Philippines’ powerful neighbor, but also to further distance itself from the United States.
“Both sides agreed that the South China Sea issue is not the sum total of the bilateral relationship,” said Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin. Liu went onto say both parties would resume bilateral talks on the issue.
Economically, it was announced by the Philippines’ Trade Secretary, Ramon Lopez, that the two nations would be signing $13.5 billion worth of economic cooperation this week. Separately, the Philippines Presidential Communications Office said President Jinping committed more than $9 billion in low-interest loans to the country, with about a third of the loan offer coming from private banks. About $15 million in loans will go toward drug rehabilitation projects.
In addition to investing in infrastructure, China agreed to end a damaging embargo on 27 fruit export companies in the Philippines, AFP added. This ban was originally part of Chinese retaliation for the South China Sea dispute.
The two sides came to a head in 2012 when China seized the Scarborough Shoal, an important fishing zone off the northern island of Luzon. Dialogue ceased between the two nations and an arbitration process was started by Duterte’s predecessor. The Philippines has maintained that the ruling form the basis for any negotiations, while Beijing has insisted the opposite.
The Hague-based tribunal ruled that both sides have jurisdiction over the area. It was not discussed, however, whether fishermen from the Philippines would be able to return to the area, likely disappointing Manila.
Duterte, in his Beijing address, emphasized the bonds of the two neighbors and the direction he would like to see their relationship go.
"China has been a friend of the Philippines and the roots of our bonds are very deep and not easily severed," he said. "Even as we arrive in Beijing, close to winter, this is a springtime of our relationship."
The visit is of keen interest to the United States who has had an important military alliance with the Philippines for years. Duterte, who has shown no love toward the U.S., even going so far as to call Obama a “son of a whore”, is trying to improve relations with his much larger and more powerful neighbor while at the same time, maintaining the dignity and sovereignty of his own country.
"This is an interesting courtship between China and the Philippines," Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, responded. "It remains to be seen whether China will seek Manila's respect for Chinese sovereignty. That would likely be a deal breaker."
When asked recently about the president's apparent plans to disengage with the U.S. militarily, the Philippines’ defense secretary told senators that Duterte sometimes makes remarks on military relations without consulting Cabinet officials.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.