Philippines to keep economic ties with US: trade chief

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 21 2016 10:51 AM | Updated as of Oct 21 2016 03:19 PM

Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomes President Rodrigo Duterte at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 20, 2016. Toto Lozano, Malacanang photo

MANILA - The Philippines is maintaining trade and investment ties with the the US, even as President Rodrigo Duterte announced the country's "separation" from its longtime ally, his trade minister said Friday.

Duterte, who is wrapping up a four-day state visit to China, is "breaking dependence" on the West while strengthening alliances in Asia, said Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.

"The statement of the President simply means maintaining relationship with the West and just breaking dependence with western allies, but (we) don't need to necessarily sever ties and stop trade and investment," Lopez told [email protected]

"We're basically continuing with those activities, but it's just breaking the dependence with those countries and strengthening basically the businesses that we have within the region," he added.

Speaking before Chinese businessmen in Beijing on Thursday, Duterte said he was announcing the Philippines "separation" from the US, its former colonial master and only treaty ally.

Washington said there was no official communication from Manila on Duterte's statement.

An estimated $13.5 billion in deals will be signed on the last day of Duterte's visit to China on Friday, Lopez said.

"It spans across agriculture, trade finance, renewable energy, manufacturing, infrastructure development. They're all, as you know, priorities in our development plans in the immediate future," Lopez said of the planned agreements.

After Duterte's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, officials announced the lifting of an advisory warning Chinese citizens against travel to the Philippines, the restoration of diplomatic and defense consultations, the lifting of restrictions on Philippine agricultural exports and China's support for Philippine infrastructure.

"INEXPLICABLY AT ODDS"

The United States has seen Manila as an important ally in its "rebalance" of resources to Asia in the face of a rising China. The US Embassy press attache in Manila, Molly Koscina, said Duterte's statements were creating uncertainty.

"We've seen a lot of this sort of troubling rhetoric recently which is inexplicably at odds with the warm relationship that exists between the Filipino and American people and the record of important cooperation between our two governments," she told Reuters in an email.

"We have yet to hear from the Philippine government what Duterte's remarks on 'separation' might mean, but it is creating unnecessary uncertainty."

She also said the United States would honor alliance commitments and treaty obligations with the Philippines.

"And, of course, we expect the Philippines to do the same."

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Washington intended to keep its alliance commitments to the Philippines.

"Obviously any relationship is one of mutuality and we will continue to discuss that with our Philippine counterparts," he told reporters before landing in Turkey. "That's not new today, but that's our alliance relationship with the Philippines."

Marie 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" and "America has lost now".

"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."

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the Philippines' warming ties with China did not mean that its relationships with other countries would cool. -- with reports from Reuters