MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte left for his consecutive state visits to Brunei and China on Sunday, promising to uphold an independent foreign policy as he pursues stronger ties with the two countries.
"In both these state visits, we will continue to espouse cooperation and collaboration with friendly nations on the basis of sovereign equality, non-interference and mutual respect," Duterte said in his departure speech at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
"In all my dealings, I will remain true to the Constitutional mandate reposed on me to pursue an independent foreign policy and to uphold the national interest of the Philippines."
Duterte is expected to arrive at Bandar Seri Begawan International Airport in Brunei at 6 p.m. Sunday.
He is scheduled to meet with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah to seek business investments, and assistance in Manila's war on illegal drugs and negotiation efforts with local rebel groups.
From Brunei, Duterte will fly to China on Tuesday and hold bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in what the Filipino leader dubbed as a "key turning point" for the relations of Manila and Beijing.
"This is the first state visit of a Philippine President to Beijing since 2011, and signals a key turning point in both our histories. We look forward to renewing ties of friendship between the Philippines and China, and to reaffirm the commitment to work closer to achieve shared goals for our countries and peoples," he said.
In talking with Chinese leaders, Duterte also said he hopes to identify "emerging areas of partnership and various fields of cooperation."
But Duterte stressed that he will not partake in any "bargaining of territory" with Beijing as it continues to refuse honoring the Philippines' claim to the resource-rich South China Sea.
"I will be very careful not to bargain anything for after all, I cannot give what is not what mine and which I am not empowered to do by any stretch of imagination," he said.
Duterte is also expected to meet members of the Filipino community in China and Brunei before returning home on Thursday.
Duterte's diplomatic trip comes in the heels of his verbal assaults on the United Nations, European Union and the United States, which have raised concern over the deaths of thousands of drug suspects under his administration.
He has also recently scrapped joint patrols and annual war games with the US.