In an interview with Chinese state television released on Wednesday, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte doubled down on his embrace of China and dismissive attitude towards the US-Philippine alliance. Duterte pronounced his state visit to China as 'the defining moment of my presidency', expansively claimed that a quarter of the Philippine population (including himself) are Chinese descendants, contended that China was the Philippines' 'only hope economically', and hoped that President Xi Jinping would find it in his heart to give the Philippines a railway.
In a speech to an overseas Filipino audience on the same day, Duterte repeated his 'son of a whore' reference for President Obama while stating 'No more American influence. No more American exercises. It's time to say goodbye, my friend. Your stay in my country was for your own benefit'.
As Duterte is rachets up the rhetoric on Manila's pivot away from the US and towards China, there are early signs of problems back home. In a moment of candour during his confirmation hearing, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted his ignorance of recent presidential pronouncements on the US-Philippine alliance: 'Mr. Chair, I really don't know because the President has been issuing statements without consulting the Cabinet.'
An 8 October opinion piece by former President Fidel Ramos, who sat at the side of Duterte at his election celebration and who Duterte nominated to lead the recommencement of talks with China over the South China Sea dispute, strongly criticises Duterte's pivot and his caustic attitude to relations with the US. A recent Social Weather Stations' poll strongly suggests that the concern with Duterte's pivot to China and away from the US may well go much deeper. The poll shows that Filipinos' already very low trust levels towards China are worsening, with 55% expressing little trust in China, compared with only 11% 22% expressing much trust. The results for the US were the mirror opposite: 11% little trust and 76% much trust.
If this visit to China will be the defining moment of Duterte's presidency, he may not like the definition.