Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated this week that joint Philippine-U.S. exercises ending this week “would be the last,” warning American officials, “do not treat us like a doormat because… I can always go to China.”
The UK Independent reports that Duterte called off the exercises going on in the Philippines over the weekend, the 28th year the two nations had engaged in such a military operation.
“For as long as I am there, do not treat us like a doormat because you’ll be sorry for it. I will not speak with you. I can always go to China,” he said, addressing Washington, in public remarks on Friday.
The President of the Philippines had previously made the same threat last month and has called for U.S. troops to leave the Philippines, particularly the southern island of Mindanao, home to the Islamic State-affiliated Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. “The special forces, they have to go. They have to go in Mindanao,” Duterte warned. In at least one part of the Philippines, Zamboanga City, some U.S. forces have begun to withdraw.
Duterte has repeatedly threatened to pivot to China over the United States in the past, though this time he has an actual visit to Beijing on his travel schedule. Duterte will be in China between October 18 and October 21 to “strengthen ties between Manila and Beijing,” according to the Philippine Star. Duterte has dismissed the idea of bringing up a territorial dispute in the South China Sea that has seen the Philippines lose territory in the Spratly and Paracel Islands and the Scarborough Shoal, as China has illegally constructed artificial islands and equipped them with military assets.
“I will go to China. We are okay with them. Let’s not dwell on the Scarborough issue for now. We can’t solve it even if we get angry,” Duterte said on Monday, adding, “I suspect that they really want to help us.”
Duterte has also promised no “Freedom of Navigation” patrols in the South China Sea.
The Philippines won a case against China for its artificial islands in the region in July. Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, brought the case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, which found that China did not present sufficient evidence for its territorial claims. China has vowed to ignore the Hague verdict entirely, seeking to court Duterte’s favor by reportedly promising to help fund his war on drugs, which has begun a major wedge issue between Philippine and American diplomats.
Duterte has referred to U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg as an “annoying… homosexual son of a whore” and President Obama himself as a “son of a whore.” During a stop at a synagogue following comments in which he favorably compared himself to Adolf Hitler, Duterte told Obama to “go to hell.”
Duterte’s diplomats have followed suit.
“We have been allies since 1951. All we got are hand-me-downs, no new equipment,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said this week, in response to the potential end of joint exercises. “The Americans failed to beef up our capabilities to be at par with what is happening in the region.”
“I am asking our American friends, American leaders, to look at our aspirations,” Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said in Washington in September. “We cannot forever be the little brown brothers of America.”