MANILA (Reuters) - The United States remains the “closest friend” of the Philippines but Manila wants to break away from a “mindset of dependency and subservience” and forge closer ties with other nations, the Philippine foreign minister said on Saturday.
The comments by Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte announced his “separation” from Washington, though he went on to strike a more conciliatory tone on Friday.
Yasay said in a Facebook posting that Duterte had “unmistakably” stated that severing ties with Washington was not in the nation’s interest.
However, he wrote that separation “implies breaking away from the debilitating mindset of dependency and subservience - economically and militarily - that have perpetuated our ‘little brown brother’ image to America, which has stunted our growth and advancement.”
He said Duterte had told Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders during a visit to Beijing that “if they are not willing to lend their support... the Filipinos will chart their destiny alone, despite great odds.”
Yasay’s posting is the latest sign of an administration once again scrambling to put out fires after Duterte’s stunning declarations, which if delivered upon could upset the geopolitical balance in a region where China and the United States are vying aggressively for influence.
On Friday, Duterte’s economic managers were quick to clarify the Philippines was not cutting economies and trade ties with the United States.
Prior to Duterte taking office in late June, China was a bitter rival of the Philippines, and Manila was one of Washington’s most dependable Asian allies.
Duterte’s efforts to engage China, months after a tribunal in the Hague ruled that Beijing did not have historic rights to the South China Sea in a case brought by the previous administration in Manila, marks a reversal in foreign policy since the 71-year-old former mayor took office on June 30.
“It is not severance of ties. When you say severance of ties, you cut diplomatic relations. I cannot do that,” Duterte told reporters at a midnight news conference in his southern home city of Davao after he arrived from his four-day trip to Beijing.
Duterte’s abrupt pivot from Washington to Beijing is unlikely to be universally popular at home, however. On Tuesday, an opinion poll showed Filipinos still trust the United States far more than China.
Editing by Helen Popper