The Philippines will maintain its trade and economic ties with the United States, Trade Minister Ramon Lopez said on Friday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte announced its “separation” from Washington.
Duterte made his comments in Beijing, where he was visiting with at least 200 business people to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance as relations with longtime ally Washington deteriorate.
“In this venue, your honours, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States,” Duterte told Chinese and Philippine business people to applause at a forum in the Great Hall of the People attended by Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.
“Both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost.”
Duterte’s efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal in the Hague ruled that Beijing did not have historic rights to the South China Sea in a case brought by the previous administration in Manila, marks a reversal in foreign policy since the 71-year-old former mayor took office on June 30.
Lopez on Friday sought to explain Duterte’s comments.
“Let me clarify. The president did not talk about separation,” Lopez told CNN Philippines in Beijing.
“In terms of economic (ties), we are not stopping trade, investment with America. The president specifically mentioned his desire to strengthen further the ties with China and the ASEAN region which we have been trading with for centuries.”
He said the Philippines was “breaking being too much dependent on one side”.
“But we definitely won’t stop the trade and investment activities with the West, specifically the U.S.”
Maria Banaag, assistant secretary at the Philippine presidential communications office, urged the public to wait for guidelines before interpreting Duterte’s announcement.
“There is no rush for us to interpret the speech of the president as we have to wait for guidelines that would be coming from him, from the Department of Foreign Affairs, as soon as they come back,” she said.
Duterte said in Beijing that he had “realigned (himself) in your ideological flow”.
“Maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia,” he said. “It’s the only way.”
Duterte’s remarks will prompt fresh concern in the United States, where the Obama administration has seen Manila as an important ally in its “rebalance” of resources to Asia in the face of a rising China.