Duterte, Back From China, Says He’s Not Severing U.S. Ties

(Bloomberg) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he’s not cutting the nation’s cord with the U.S. and that maintaining ties would be in his country’s best interest, stepping back from his “goodbye” America comments made during a four-day state visit to China.

“It’s not severance of ties,” Duterte said in a televised briefing in Davao city around midnight Friday, after returning from Beijing. “It’s in the best interests of my country that I don’t do that,” he said. On Thursday, he told Filipino and Chinese businessmen and officials in a China forum that “in this venue, I announce my separation from the U.S.”

Back in the Philippines, Duterte said the comments refer to a foreign policy that doesn’t “dovetail” with America. “What I’m really saying was separation of foreign policy, which in the past and until I became president, we always followed” the cue from the U.S., he said.

Duterte’s cabinet members, who have often sought to tone down his statements, followed a similar routine this time. Hours after the president’s “separation” remarks, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the Philippines will maintain relations with the West. Duterte is “rebalancing” foreign policy and broadening the country’s alliance and not separating from the U.S., they said in a joint statement.

“It is breaking away from the perpetual little-brown-brother image of the Americans that has impeded our capability to stand on our own feet in addressing the urgent and complex domestic problems and foreign issues and pursuing our national interests without undue outside interference,” Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said in a mobile-phone message Saturday, in response to a request for further comment on Duterte’s message.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte’s remarks restate his position on “charting an independent foreign policy.”

The president said in Davao that he didn’t surrender anything to China during the visit, particularly the Philippines’ rights to disputed territory in the South China Sea that was bolstered by a Permanent Court of Arbitration decision in July that China’s efforts to assert control over area exceeded the law. He touted $24 billion worth of funding and investment deals from China.

Asked about a possible alliance with China and Russia, Duterte said it could be military or economic in nature.

Duterte declined to comment on the U.S. elections but called Russian President Vladimir Putin his “favorite hero.”