Philippine President Duterte open to military exercise with China, but not with US

Duterte vows not to surrender sovereignty or deviate from the July ruling regarding the South China Sea issue.

Philippine President Duterte apologises to Jews for Hitler remark
Philippines President Duterte gestures while delivering a speech before female police officers during a gathering in Davao city, Philippines September 30, 2016 Reuters

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is willing to hold military drills with China but refused to do so with the United States, a long-time ally, the Chinese media quoted him as saying.

Duterte is scheduled to visit China on Tuesday for a four-day trip that apparently is a move to cement his dramatic foreign policy tilt away from the US.

"It's only China (that) can help us," Xinhua, China's state-run news agency quoted Duterte as saying in an interview ahead of his visit. Duterte is expected to press for more soft loans and other forms of financial help from China during the visit.

The Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television also reported that he expressed his will to hold joint military exercises with China and Russia.

When Duterte was asked about war games, he said: "Yes, I will. I have given enough time for the Americans to play with the Filipino soldiers."

He reiterated the fact that he would no longer hold any more exercise with the US.

"This will be the last. It has been programmed. I do not want my soldiers to be humiliated," Duterte said referring to the military drills that ended last week in the Philippines.

The United States criticized Duterte for his war on crime that has claimed more than 3,700 lives. But, the Philippine president has repeatedly expressed anger over American criticism and told US President Barack Obama to "go to hell".

In an interview with Xinhua, Duterte thanked China for not criticising the crime crackdown. "China never criticises. They help us quietly," Duterte said.

The bilateral ties between Manila and Beijing detoriated under the rule of Benigno Aquino, Duterte's predecessor, as he tried to challenge China's expansionism in the South China Sea.

China claims nearly the entire strategically vital waterway. It even claims rights to the waters approaching the Philippines and other South-east Asian nations.

In recent years, China has built artificial islands in the disputed areas that are capable of hosting military bases.

Greater American military presence

In order to counter China, Aquino allowed a greater American military presence in the Philippines. He started joint military patrols in the conflicted waters of the South China Sea with the US forces.

It was Aquino who filed a legal case against China's vast territorial claims at an international tribunal at The Hague. In July, the court ruled that Beijing's claims claims to most of the sea had no legal basis. However, China refused to accept the verdict.

On Sunday, Duterte vowed not to surrender any sovereignty or deviate from the July ruling.

In response to Duterte's remarks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Duterte is the leader of his country. He will make his policy based on the best interests of his country and people.

He also added that regarding the arbitration case China has made its position very clear and consistent. Hua told a daily news briefing that China wants to hold peaceful talks between the parties directly involved in the case to resolve the South China Sea issue.

"China's door has always been open to the Philippines, and I think you've also noticed President Duterte has many times said he wants dialogue with China and his positive desire to appropriately resolve relevant issues," she said.