sexta-feira, 21 de outubro de 2016

Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte announces ‘separation’ from US

Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte announces ‘separation’ from US
President willing to set aside court victory over Beijing on South China Sea claims

by: Charles Clover in Beijing and Michael Peel in Manila

Rodrigo Duterte has announced his country’s “separation” from America, capping a remarkable month of diplomacy in which the Philippine leader has burnt bridge after bridge with the US and made overtures to Beijing.

“I announce my separation from the United States,” he said to applause at a meeting in Beijing on Thursday. A day earlier he had said: “I will not go to America any more. We will just be insulted there. So time to say goodbye my friend.”

Mr Duterte also hailed a new era in Sino-Philippine relations, signalling a detente in the nations’ fierce maritime dispute.

“Even as we arrived in Beijing close to winter, this is the springtime of our relationship,” he told his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

In advance of their meeting, Mr Duterte had suggested he would be willing to overlook an international court ruling in the Philippines’ favour, handing his hosts a big diplomatic victory.

He said he would not mention July’s ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague against Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, telling Chinese media the decision was “just a piece of paper with four corners”.

Beijing had encouraged Manila to set the ruling aside in exchange for investment and joint development. Ramon Lopez, Philippine trade secretary, said on Thursday evening his country and China would sign $13.5bn of deals during this week’s visit.

Mr Duterte’s dispute with the US is partly based on American policy in the region over the past few decades but has been exacerbated by Washington’s criticism of his war on drugs. China has since sought to capitalise with an effort to bring Mr Duterte into its orbit, which could have crucial implications for US security strategy in Asia.

John Kirby, spokesman at the state department, said the US was “baffled” by Mr Duterte’s comments, which were “inexplicably at odds with the very close relationship that we have with the Filipino people”.

Assistant secretary of state Daniel Russel would travel to Manila next week to “seek an explanation” for what Mr Duterte means when he calls for a “separation from the US”.

“It isn’t just the United States who is baffled by this rhetoric,” Mr Kirby said. “We have heard from many of our friends and partners in the region who are likewise confused about where this is going.”

Mira Rapp-Hooper, an Asia expert at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said the US had made three assumptions about Mr Duterte that have not yet been borne out: that his statements about the alliance were largely rhetoric, that he would be constrained by strong public support for the US in the Philippines and that his rush to make nice with China would produce little.

However, she said that in any agreement with China over economic assistance or over the South China, “the devil is in the detail and we have not seen the detail yet”.

She added that Mr Duterte’s planned trip to Japan next week would demonstrate a lot about his real intentions. If he continued to pursue the closer economic and military ties that have built up between the two countries in recent years, it would mean he was much less committed to the idea of seeking a broader alliance with China and Russia than his statements have suggested.

The Philippines had been Washington’s closest partner that is involved in the South China Sea disputes. Earlier this year, the US negotiated an agreement with the Philippines which would allow it to store equipment at five airbases in the country and increase the number of visits by US navy ships.

The coming days will show whether Beijing can convert a big diplomatic opportunity into a permanent foreign policy victory over Washington.

“The improvement of [ the Philippine] relationship with China will be a major blow to America’s interference in the South China Sea,” said Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University. “This visit will not only improve the bilateral relationship between China and the Philippines, but will go beyond and bring a shockwave effect in many areas.”

Wang Chong, a senior researcher at Charhar Institute in Beijing, said the improvement in Beijing-Manila relations could have a “radiating effect in the region” that would bring other estranged neighbours closer to China’s orbit.

A statement by China after the meeting between the two leaders said they had signed 13 agreements and agreed to “push forward the overall improvement of the China-Philippines relationship”. No details were given of the agreements.

Only after the China visit will it become clear what exactly Beijing has promised Mr Duterte in exchange for his goodwill. Reuters on Wednesday cited sources in the Chinese leadership saying they may grant Philippine fishermen access to Scarborough Shoal, a strategic and economically vital rocky outcrop that China seized in 2012.

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Richard Javad Heydarian, an assistant professor at Manila’s De La Salle University, said Mr Duterte's decision to play down the territorial conflicts with China had “raised eyebrows back home in Manila” where memories are still fresh of previous disputes over the Scarborough Shoal. “It is too early to talk about full recovery of bilateral relations, but definitely the trip broke the ice,” Mr Heydarian said,

Mr Duterte used his visit to cast the Philippines and China as bound by fate in the South China Sea. He mentioned his own Chinese ancestry: his grandfather was an immigrant from Xiamen in Fujian province.

Developing his country’s economy was more important than exacerbating tensions with China, he said. “One hundred years from now, it’s really meaningless,” Mr Duterte said. “The oceans cannot feed us all. Your fish is my fish.”

Additional reporting by Sherry Fei Ju

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