MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday that Russia and China offered to help out when he complained to them about the United States.
He also threatened to tear up an agreement that has seen the U.S. send troops and military hardware to the Philippines, according to reports of a speech he gave.
“Tomorrow I will be friends with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (Chinese President) Xi Jinping,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Duterte as telling an audience in Bacolod City in the Philippines.
Duterte has earned criticism not only from the U.S. but also from the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations and the influential Catholic Church in the Philippines for disregarding due process in a deadly crackdown on drug pushers and addicts.
Washington’s criticism appears to have stung him the most.
Duterte said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev agreed with him when he railed against the United States during a meeting in Laos last month.
“I met with Medvedev, I am revealing it to you now,” Duterte said in a speech. “I told him this is the situation: They are giving me a hard time, they are disrespecting me; they are shameless.
“He said: ‘That is really how the Americans are.’ He said: ‘We will help you.’ “
His ire towards the United States has intensified since U.S. President Barack Obama said he would raise concerns about Duterte’s deadly war on drugs. The White House cancelled a meeting between them in Laos after Duterte called Obama a “son of a bitch.”
Duterte said on Sunday he had raised objections about the United States with Chinese officials also, and that they urged him to side with Beijing because Washington would be unable to help, the Philippine Daily Inquirer said.
Duterte has said repeatedly he plans to open new alliances with Russia and China, particularly for trade and commerce, as an independent foreign policy.
A Philippine business delegation will accompany Duterte on a visit to Beijing from Oct. 19-21, where he is expected to hold talks with Xi and to pitch for investment.
He will then reportedly embark on a visit to Japan, although Tokyo has not yet confirmed such plans.
In March, two Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and a submarine paid a visit to the Philippines, the first such port visit in 15 years. Tokyo and Manila also have struck up a capacity-building partnership, with Japan agreeing to donate 10 coastal patrol vessels and to lease training aircraft. The first of the vessels was delivered in August.
Meanwhile, in another swipe at Washington, Duterte said he would review a landmark security deal agreed upon with the United States, arguing it may not be legally binding because no president had signed off on it.
Duterte’s remarks show his intent to challenge or test the limits of a historic alliance that U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday called “ironclad.”
That came the day after Duterte declared joint U.S.-Philippines war games starting this week would be “the last.”
The Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, signed a few days before Obama visited the Philippines in 2014, allows U.S. troops to build storage facilities for maritime security and humanitarian and disaster response operations.
It also provides broad access to Philippine military bases.
Duterte said the agreement would be reviewed because it was signed by the then Philippine defense secretary and the U.S. ambassador, and not the country’s president.
Duterte did not explicitly say that he would try to scrap the deal, but in comments aimed at the United States, he said: “It does not bear the signature of the president of the Republic of the Philippines.”
He added: “Better think twice now, because I would be asking you to leave the Philippines altogether.”
In a response, the Pentagon said the United States and Philippines had a long history of working together on security issues and that conversations between Carter and his Philippine counterpart last week in Hawaii had been “positive.”
“We will continue to honor our alliance commitments, and we expect the Philippines to do the same,” said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.
“We will continue to work closely with the government of the Philippines to address any concerns they may have,” Cook said.
Under the defense agreement, two C-130 transport planes and 100 U.S. servicemen have been at an air base in the central Philippines since Sept. 25 as part of a two-week exercise.
Analysts saw the agreement in part as a deterrent to ward off moves by China to advance its interests in the South China Sea.
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, John McCain, has previously said the agreement was a landmark deal with a significance “not witnessed in decades.”
Any indication it could be halted would be a big setback for U.S. efforts to boost its influence in Asia and counter that of a fast-rising China.
Washington’s defense agreements with the Philippines, its former colony, are more substantial than with any other country in Southeast Asia.
Duterte’s comments come at a time when U.S. defense ties with Thailand, another traditional ally, have been temporarily scaled back following the military’s 2014 coup.
The defense deal with the Philippines faced a legal challenge from some of the Asian country’s lawmakers and activists. They were concerned that it represented a challenge to sovereignty and would make the Philippines a launching pad for U.S. military intervention in the region. The Supreme Court ruled in January that it was constitutional.
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