Politics is filled with fair-weather friends, that isn’t news. What does make headlines, though is when a head of state openly admits in a speech that he’s only interested in relations with rich countries, which is exactly what Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte did in Davao yesterday.
“Let me put it this way, as I have said, our destiny lies in Asia. It does not lie in the Middle East. They’re too far away, too busy fighting the war. And some of them have no money. If you do not have money, you are not my friend,” he said while addressing reporters before flying to China for the Boao Forum in Hainan.
So, naturally, Duterte has no problem forming relations with China. He even went so far as to say that he loves Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“I go to China, plenty of money. That’s the truth,” he said. “I just simply love Xi Jinping. He understood, he understands my problem and is willing to help. I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to China.”
During his trip, Duterte will address attendees of the Boao Forum, an event modeled after the World Economic Forum, and will have bilateral meetings with his BFF, Xi.
Although the Philippines’ relationship with China has been fraught for years because of the dispute over the West Philippine Sea, Duterte has been open about warming up to the Asian superpower since the beginning of his term as president.
Just four months after his inauguration in 2016, Duterte said that he would cut military and economic ties with long-time ally the United States, while moving to improve relations with China.
“I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to [President Vladimir] Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines, and Russia. It’s the only way,” Duterte said in a speech in Beijing.
More recently, he suggested in February that the Philippines should become a province of China. “If you want, just make us a province, like Fujian,” he said while addressing Filipino-Chinese businessmen.
Although it was supposedly said in jest, Filipinos were not happy about the president’s comments.
Many have criticized Duterte for not standing up to China more and not asserting the Philippines’ rights to territories within China’s so-called nine-dash line, even though the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claim in 2016.