MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said Chinese President Xi Jinping gave him assurances that he would not let him get ousted, as the Filipino leader again touted Manila and Beijing’s blooming ties under his leadership.
“The assurances of [President] Xi Jinping were very encouraging… ‘We will not allow you to be taken out from your office, and we will not allow the Philippines to go to the dogs,’” Duterte quoted Xi as saying during a send-off ceremony to Filipino scientists who will study Benham Rise (Philippine Rise) in Casiguran, Aurora.
“Siguro kasi dahil freely elected leader naman ako (That’s maybe because I’m a freely elected leader.) It could be a very justified statement,” he added.
Duterte frequently speaks fondly of Xi, whose vast powers are often compared to those wielded by Mao Xedong and Deng Xiaoping. The Chinese leader, named by Forbes magazine as the world’s most powerful person, is set to rule China for life following the removal of the country’s presidential term limits.
Analysts say Xi at the helm for a much longer period could result in more stability in some of Beijing’s policies, while some warn this could trigger unrest.
Since assuming the Presidency, Duterte has chosen to downplay Manila’s South China Sea dispute with Beijing. He has also sought to diminish American influence in the country.
China, Duterte believes, will be more willing to come to the Philippines’ rescue compared to the United States, a long-standing ally.
“Naisip ko, wala naman tayong magagawa dito sa China, might as well make friends with them,” he said. “And the nearest na makatulong kung mag-upakan, patayan, will be China. And China said, ‘we will be there.’”
(I just thought, since we can’t do anything about China, we might as well make friends with them. And the nearest one who could help us in case of a conflict is China. And China said, “we will be there.”)
He said the Americans, after all, “has lost [their] will to fight” and the US is now “deteriorating.”
"I’m sad to say but America cannot stand hardship. Punta sa giyera sa Afghanistan, matapos ang bakbakan uwi sa Green Zone, gusto ng kuwarto na air-con (They will go to war in Afghanistan, then after the fight they will go back to the Green Zone and look for air-conditioned rooms),” he said.
The Philippines and China have been embroiled in the dispute over the South China Sea for decades. It reached a critical point during the presidency of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, who led the filing of a case against Beijing before a United Nations-backed tribunal in 2013.
The tribunal ruled in favor of Manila in 2016, declaring China’s expansive nine-dash line claim to the sea invalid. Beijing has ignored the landmark ruling.
The President said he won’t raise Manila’s victory yet, noting the Philippines is benefiting from friendly ties between the two Asian nations.
Duterte had blamed the United States for the current maritime tensions, saying they failed to stop China’s building and arming artificial islands in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Duterte has vowed to pursue an independent foreign policy, as he sought to downgrade ties with the US, partly due to its criticism of his war on drugs. Critics, however, say Duterte’s words and actions towards China have emboldened Beijing to do whatever it pleases in South China Sea.