SWS: Majority of Filipinos say ties with US 'more important' than China

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(From L-R) US' Donald Trump, President Rodrigo Duterte, and China's Xi Jinping

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 7) — Majority of Filipinos value the country's relationship with the United States more than its ties with China, according to a nationwide poll.

The Social Weather Stations' third quarter survey showed that nearly 8 in 10, or 78 percent, of Filipinos believe the Philippines' relationship with US "is more important" that what it has with China. Only 12 percent said sided with the country's ties with Beijing.

The remaining five percent of the respondents said the Philippines' relationship with the two countries are equally important, while four percent did not give an answer.

A total of 1,800 adults were interviewed for the non-commissioned survey which was conducted from September 27-30. Results were made public on Saturday.

Half or 52 percent of those surveyed believe it is possible for the Philippines to have a good relationship with both the US and China at the same time, while 41 percent said otherwise. The remaining seven percent abstained.

"Those with much trust in China have stronger belief that the Philippines can have a good relationship with both China and the US at the same time," the private pollster noted.

Filipinos' trust in China continued to tumble in the third quarter, sinking nine points from -24 in June to -33 in September, the SWS earlier revealed. China is the least trusted among the countries included in the poll, while the US got the highest "excellent" trust rating of +72.

US is the country's traditional and only military ally, with a 68-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty treaty which states that the two countries would assist each other should either of them be attacked by a foreign force.

READ: PH, US in 'low-level discussion' on reviewing Mutual Defense Treaty

President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy has been characterized as a pivot towards China and away from the US, nurturing friendship with the East Asian giant despite competing claims in the South China Sea.

READ: Duterte tells China: South China Sea code 'least concern of' US

China claims almost the entire global waterway, including areas the Philippines claims, occupies, and calls as the West Philippine Sea.

Beijing continues to reject the arbitration ruling that invalidated its sweeping claim to the South China Sea. Duterte has said the Philippines is willing to "set aside" or "ignore" the landmark ruling to make way for the planned oil and gas exploration with Beijing.

US does not claim any part of the South China Sea, but conducts freedom of navigation operations and calls out China's alleged militarization of contested areas.

The SWS poll was conducted during the period after diplomatic protests Manila were filed with Beijing over the presence of Chinese warships and survey vessels in the country's waters without notifying local authorities. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorezana said Duterte raised the issue in his bilateral meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, but Xi replied that international law does not require ships to seek permission in passing through the territorial waters of another country.

Another SWS poll showed that 70 percent of Filipinos are also "worried" over the rise of Chinese workers in the country, with some even believing it may be a threat to national security.