Top US diplomat welcomes enhanced PH-China relations but…
A top US diplomat for Asia on Monday said the improved relations between Manila and Beijing was a welcome development that did not come at the expense of America, stressing that countries need not have to choose between the two superpowers.
US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel also reaffirmed that the Philippines remained America’s strong and steady ally but expressed concern that the series of controversial statements made by President Duterte has created “consternation” among some countries and governments.
“We support direct dialogue and negotiations between Philippines and China as long as they take place on terms that are acceptable to the Philippines, as long as they are consistent with international laws,” Russel spoke to reporters after a meeting with Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. on Monday.
He said it was a wrong perception that the revived ties between China and the Philippines came at the expense of the United States. “That’s not the way that we think about it. This should be addition and not subtraction,” said Russel.
The US diplomat flew in over the weekend to meet with several government officials and have lunch with the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative participants. He will fly to Bangkok on Oct. 25.
Russel’s visit came on the heels of a speech by Mr. Duterte in China that he was cutting military and economic ties with the US – a statement he later clarified as moving for a “separation of foreign policy” and not severance of diplomatic ties.
“If separation means that the government and Manila makes its own policy decisions based on its own assessment of Philippines’ national interest, then there’s no need for change,” said Russel.
“We don’t want countries to have to choose between the US and China but we do want countries to be able to have choices, to have autonomy, to make their own decision in keeping with their own democratic values and in keeping with international laws,” he said.
But the US official said he pointed out to Yasay that Mr. Duterte’s controversial announcements and the “real climate of uncertainty in about the Philippines’ intention” have caused alarm not only among a number of countries but also among “expat Filipino communities and in corporate boardrooms.”
“This is not a positive trend,” he said. He added that while Washington strongly supports the Philippine government’s “effort against the scourge of drugs,” it also reiterates the importance of due process and respect for the rights of citizens.
“The growing uncertainty about this and other issues is bad for business as well,” he said.
In a separate interview, Yasay described his meeting with Russel as “very nice and cordial.” “They just wanted some clarifications and I gave him the clarification and we were both happy,” he told reporters./rga