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President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday his country would not rely on long-term security ally the United States, signaling greater independence from Washington in dealing with China and the disputed South China Sea.
The Philippines has traditionally been one of Washington’s staunchest supporters in its standoff with Beijing over the South China Sea, a vital trade route where China has built artificial islands, airstrips and other military facilities.
Duterte, the tough-talking mayor of Davao City who swept to victory in a May 9 election, has backed multilateral talks to settle rows over the South China Sea that would include the United States, Japan, and Australia as well as claimant nations.
He has also called on China, which claims most of the sea, to respect the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone granted to coastal states under international law.
Asked by reporters if he would push for bilateral talks with China, Duterte replied: “We have this pact with the West, but I want everybody to know that we will be charting a course of our own.
“It will not be dependent on America. And it will be a line that is not intended to please anybody but the Filipino interest.”
Asked about Duterte’s comments at a State Department briefing, Daniel Russel, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, said the United States had “no problem whatsoever” with bilateral talks among the South China Sea claimants.
Russel noted that some disputes in the South China Sea were by their nature multilateral and could not be resolved on a bilateral basis, but added “those that can, we’re all for it.” (Reuters)