President Rodrigo Duterte has said the Philippines is willing to hold joint military exercises with China and Russia, while reiterating that he will no longer allow war games with longtime ally the United States.
Duterte made the remarks in a TV interview broadcast on Monday, ahead of a four-day visit to Beijing aimed at improving ties that soured over competing claims in the resource-rich South China Sea.
Asked if he would consider joint military drills with China or Russia, Duterte told Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television: “Yes, I will. I have given enough time for the Americans to play with the Filipino soldiers.”
Duterte also repeated he would no longer allow joint exercises with the US, the Philippines’ main defence ally and supplier of military hardware.
“This will be the last. It has been programmed,” Duterte said.
Duterte has sought to dramatically reshape his nation’s foreign relations since taking office on June 30, by pivoting towards China and Russia while moving away from the US.
The Philippine president has been angered by US criticism of his war on drugs, which has claimed more than 3,700 lives, and praised China and Russia for showing him “respect”.
But Duterte, signalling his shift is for pragmatic reasons, has also repeatedly ridiculed the US for what he sees as its weakening economic and military influence around the world.
He has also stirred controversy after cursing US President Barack Obama ahead of a bilateral meeting, which was later cancelled. Later, he was quoted as telling the US leader to “go to hell”.
Duterte is bringing an entourage of hundreds of businessmen with him to Beijing on Tuesday, and Philippine media have said deals worth billions of dollars are expected to be announced during the trip.
Asked if he would seek to buy military equipment from China during his visit, Duterte told Phoenix Television: “Yes, but not really in (large) numbers.”
Duterte said he would also need small, fast-attack boats from China to fight “terrorism”.
“If China does not help us in this endeavour, we will have a hard time fighting terrorism,” he said without elaborating.
Relations between the Philippines and China worsened under Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino, who tried to challenge Beijing’s expansionism in the South China Sea.
To counter China, Aquino allowed a much greater US military presence in the Philippines.
He also filed a legal case at a UN-backed tribunal, which ruled in July that China’s claims to most of the sea had no legal basis. Beijing refused to accept the ruling.
Duterte has said he does not want to use the verdict to pressure China.
But on Sunday, he told local reporters he will raise the tribunal ruling with leaders in Beijing, adding that he “will not bargain anywhere”.
“We will continue to insist on what is ours,” he said.