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Saturday, October 22, 2016, 15:14

Duterte says he won't sever ties with US

By Reuters

Duterte says he won't sever ties with US
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech during the Philippines-China Trade and Investment Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing , Oct 20, 2016. (Wu Hong/Pool Photo via AP)

DAVAO, Philippines - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday he was not severing ties with his country's long-time ally the United States, but merely pursuing a more independent foreign policy by strengthening relations with China .

A day after he provoked fresh diplomatic alarm by announcing his " separation " from Washington, Duterte struck a more conciliatory tone as he arrived back in the Philippines after a four-day visit to Beijing.

"It is not severance of ties. When you say severance of ties, you cut diplomatic relations. I cannot do that," the Philippine leader told reporters at a midnight news conference in his southern home city of Davao.

"It's in the best interest of my countrymen to maintain that relationship."

On Thursday, Duterte had told Chinese and Philippine business people at a forum in Beijing's Great Hall of the People that America had "lost now", as he sought what he calls a new commercial alliance with China. "I announce my separation from the United States," he had said, to sustained applause, adding he would also seek closer ties with Russia.

Clarifying his comments on Friday, he said that what he meant was that Manila's foreign policy need not always "dovetail" with Washington. "As in separation, what I was really saying was separation of foreign policy," he said. "In the past, and until I became president, we always follow what the United States would give the cue."

It's in the best interest of my countrymen to maintain that relationship

Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine president

The White House, which had responded to the "separation" speech by saying there had been "too many" troubling statements from Duterte recently, was quick to welcome the apparent shift in tone.

"Based on his extensive, colorful previous comments, there is greater clarity that we would like to get about the intent of President Duterte and his government," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a daily news briefing.

"But based on what you've read me that seems to be a change in tone that is more consistent with the seven decade-long alliance between the United States and the Philippines."

"WHAT THE PRESIDENT MEANT..."

Earlier officials in Manila were left scrambling to explain the latest comments from Duterte, whose broadsides against the United States have grown increasingly frequent.

"In terms of economic (ties), we are not stopping trade, investment with America," Trade Minister Ramon Lopez told CNN Philippines. He said the Philippines was "breaking being too much dependent on one side".

Duterte's spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said the president had been making a "restatement" of his bid to chart an independent foreign policy.

Duterte wanted to "separate the nation from dependence on the U.S. and the West, and rebalance economic and military relations with Asian neighbors" like China, Japan and South Korea, Abella said in statement.

Underscoring that, the Chinese and Philippines defense ministers met in Beijing on the sidelines of Duterte's visit, and pledged to restore security ties, China's Defence Ministry said.

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