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Philippines' Duterte to forge closer ties with China, Russia

Associated Press Associated Press 26/09/2016 By TERESA CEROJANO, Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he has decided to "cross the Rubicon" in his ties with the United States and will open trade alliances and offer long-term land leases to "the other side of the ideological barrier," China and Russia.

The U.S. State Department responded that it wouldn't stand in Manila's way of seeking deeper ties with Beijing and Moscow. But it maintained that the U.S.-Philippine alliance endures despite the barrage of negative commentary from Duterte since he took power in June.

Duterte told reporters he was "not really" breaking ties with the U.S., his country's long-time treaty ally, but will open all areas of trade and commerce to China and Russia. It would not include military alliances, he said.

He said the two countries' companies would be able to lease land in the Philippines for up to 120 years.

Duterte said he will travel to China soon to talk to President Xi Jinping, and then to Japan and Russia.

Duterte has had an uneasy relationship with the U.S., which has criticized his crackdown on illegal drugs in which more than 3,000 people have died.

During a summit of East Asian leaders in Laos earlier this month, Duterte said he told Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Mevedev that he was "about to cross the Rubicon" with the United States, at least during the six years of his presidential term.

"I would need your help in everything — trade, commerce — and I will open up," Duterte said he told Mevedev.

Asked by a reporter what he meant by crossing the Rubicon, Duterte said it was "a point of no return." He said the problem was that the Philippines' mutual defense treaty with the U.S. does not guarantee that Washington will come to the Philippines' defense if it is attacked because the U.S. president would need the approval of Congress.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that despite Duterte's repeated criticisms of the U.S., the department has not been officially contacted by Philippine authorities regarding any of those things. He said the U.S. believes it can remain a close friend and partner of the Southeast Asian nation.

"We are not deaf. We do hear what he says. But our cooperation with the Philippine government remains strong and unabated," Toner told reporters. "He (Duterte) makes public statements. We have not, though, seen anything with regard to our relations with the Philippines that would indicate a shift, if you will, or a turning away."

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama canceled a formal meeting with Duterte at a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders after the Philippine leader used the phrase "son of a bitch" in warning that he wouldn't accept lectures from Obama on human rights. Duterte has also said he would not allow Filipino forces to conduct joint patrols with the U.S. military in the disputed South China Sea and that he wants U.S. forces out of the country's south, where he said minority Muslims resent the presence of American troops.

Duterte lashed out Monday against the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Australia for criticizing the deaths in his campaign against illegal drugs.

"They should not scare me about the extrajudicial killings, or else I will also demand that the United States of America and EU be investigated alongside with me because they have committed far more injustice and have done horrific things," he added, calling them "hypocrites."


Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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