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Filipino president talks of possible joint drills with China

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Chinese sailors stand at attention on board a Chinese naval ship during a visit to Davao city, southern Philippines, on April 30, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has raised the prospects of holding joint exercises with China as Manila seems to be distancing itself from its traditional ally, the United States.

Duterte, who was visiting a Chinese flotilla docked at a port south of the country on Monday, said the Philippines and China could stage drills in the future.

“Yes, I said I agree. There can be joint exercises,” said Duterte when asked about possible joint drills between the two countries.

Duterte also hailed the presence of three Chinese warships at the Sasa Port in Davao City, his home town on Mindanao Island. The mission is China’s first navy port call in the Philippines since 2010 and signals warming ties between the two countries despite sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (Photo by AFP)

Since coming to power in September 2016, Duterte has been taking steps towards the improvement of ties with China and downgrading military cooperation with the US, a long-time ally.  

Meanwhile, the Philippines on Sunday issued a statement on behalf of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which took a soft stance towards China’s island-building in the disputed waterway.

Reports said the ASEAN chairman's statement was the result of efforts by the Chinese ambassador to Manila, who worked hard to influence the tenor and content of the document.

Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, which are all members of ASEAN, have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

An international tribunal last year outlawed China’s claims to the key waterway. China has said it would not accept the ruling, insisting it has sovereign rights over nearly all of the sea.

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The fact that Duterte did not mention the ruling against China in the ASEAN statement and that Beijing dispatched the warships to Davao rather than Manila suggests that the two countries are improving relations faster than ever. 

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