Philippines to Hold Military Exercises With China: Duterte

Felipe Villamor
170501-PH-naval-620.jpg Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (center) salutes while visiting the Chinese warship Changchun in the port of Davao, May 1, 2017.

The Philippines is to conduct military exercises with newfound regional backer China in waters around the southern Mindanao region, President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday after touring Chinese warships docked at his hometown of Davao City.

It was the first time in seven years that the Chinese Navy had made a port call in the Philippines, and on Monday military personnel on both sides engaged in “goodwill games” to cement the revitalized friendship.

“[This trip] is really part of confidence-building and goodwill, and to show that we are friends,” Duterte said. “That’s why I welcomed them here and I was the one who asked, ‘you show me your warships.’”

“Yes, I said I agree, you can have a joint exercise here in Mindanao, maybe in the Sulu Sea,” Duterte told reporters, according to a transcript released to the media in Manila.

The Philippine leader also said he might not be able to visit the United States this year, after boasting earlier about receiving an invitation from U.S. President Donald Trump over the weekend.

Duterte visited the three Chinese warships a day after issuing a chairman’s statement on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which just wrapped its annual meeting in Manila.

In what many experts consider as a turnaround from Manila’s earlier position regarding China, Duterte merely took note of “concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments in the area.”

He ignored a 2015 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated China’s claims to most of the potentially resource-rich South China Sea region, a vital waterway through which most of the world’s shipping commerce passes.

Apart from the Philippines and China, the sea region is claimed as well by Taiwan and ASEAN states Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. China insists it has historical and sovereign rights over the region.

In previous news conferences, Duterte repeatedly said the Philippines and other nations were helpless to stop China’s island-building in parts of the South China Sea. He also emphasized the potential billions of dollars’ worth of investments from Beijing that he expected to be an offshoot of improved bilateral relations.

In Davao City on Monday, Duterte said he was impressed by the Chinese vessels’ armaments.

If they fired toward the Philippine direction, he said, “all of us will be blown.”

‘I’m tied up’

Asked if he would make a state visit after getting the invitation from President Trump, Duterte replied: “No, because I have … I’m tied up. I cannot make any definite promise. I’m supposed to go to Russia, I’m also supposed to go to Israel.”

Trump called Duterte after the ASEAN summit on Saturday.

Duterte said the telephone conversation was brief but friendly, and that he cautioned the U.S. president to tread carefully with North Korea, which has threatened anew to test nuclear weapons.

Duterte said he explained to Trump his relationship with the former administration of Barrack Obama, whom he blamed for publicly warning him about his country’s war on drugs.

“It was not a distancing but it was rather a rift between me maybe and the State Department and Mr. Obama who spoke openly against me,” Duterte said.

He said that with the election of Trump, “things have changed.”

“He wants to make friends and he says we are friends,” Duterte said. “So why do you have to pick a fight?”

Duterte’s latest comments about Trump came after the New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the American president to censure his Philippine counterpart for his country’s anti-narcotics campaign, which has left thousands dead since last year.

Phelim Kine, a deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, urged Trump to talk about the killings that occurred since Duterte took office in June 2016.

Kine called the Filipino leader an “enthusiastic cheerleader for those killings.”

“Countries with close bilateral ties to the Philippines, particularly the United States, have an obligation to urge accountability for the victims of Duterte’s abusive drug war, rather than offer to roll out the red carpet for official state visits with its mastermind,” Kine said.

He said Duterte had made repeated calls for the public to kill drug addicts as part of the campaign.

“These calls could constitute criminal incitement to commit murder,” Kine said.


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