UPDATE - Duterte to open Philippines to China, Russia alliance

UPDATE - Duterte to open Philippines to China, Russia alliance

Says will open Philippines to trade, commerce with China, Russia while heading toward ‘point of no return’ in ties with US


By Hader Glang

ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed willingness to open the Philippines to alliances with China and Russia while indicating that he would head toward a “point of no return” in relations with the United States.

"I’ll open up the Philippines for them [China and Russia] to do business alliances of trade and commerce,” Duterte was quoted by local media as telling a press conference Monday.

He underlined, however, that he was not referring to military alliances, and did not mean that ties with the Philippines’ treaty partner and long-time ally the U.S. would be cut.

Since winning the May 9 election, Duterte has declared that his administration would pursue an “independent foreign policy” in which Manila does not rely on Washington, and has even called for the withdrawal of U.S. special forces from southern Mindanao region.

Earlier this month, he said he no longer wants the Philippines to participate in joint sea patrols with other countries -- seemingly again turning his nose up at the U.S. and his predecessor’s agreement with Washington to start joint patrols in the disputed South China Sea.

He also revealed that Russia and China had agreed to provide weaponry and armaments for the Philippines military to use in its counter-insurgency campaign in Mindanao.

Asked about Duterte's comments in Washington, the State Department said it did not oppose the plan, stressing "it's not a zero-sum game.

"They're a sovereign nation and we're certainly not going to hold them back from pursuing closer relations with either of those countries," spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

"We believe that we can remain a close friend and partner with the Philippines," he added.

On Monday, Duterte -- who is scheduled to visit China and Japan next month -- expressed plans to also travel to Russia.

“After China, I think I’ll go to Japan and I’ll go to Russia,” he said.

Referring to a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Laos earlier this month, Duterte recounted having told him “I think I'm about to cross the Rubicon between me and the United States, at least for the six years.”

When asked by a reporter what he meant by "crossing the Rubicon", he said he was concerned by lack of assurance that the U.S. would assist the Philippines in times of impending war.

"It says that an attack on the Philippines will be an attack on the United States but in the U.S. constitution it says that before a president can declare war with anybody in defense of an ally, he has to go Congress for permission to go to war,” he said. “That is the problem. So if the Congress will not give him authority, what will happen to us?"

Last week, the president underlined that he seeks peace rather than war with Beijing dispute the countries’ dispute over parts of the resource-rich South China Sea.

Beijing claims around 90 percent of the South China Sea despite other Asian counties considering some of its waters, islands and reefs as their territory.

In July, an arbitration court in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in its petition against China's "nine-dash line" claim on a large part of the sea -- which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea. Beijing declared the court's award "null and void".

The United States and its allies -- including the Philippines and Japan -- have, however, expressed alarm over China's reclamation work in the region, which includes the building of airfields, as they suspect the maritime expansion is aimed at extending its military reach.

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