Duterte: China, Russia – unlike US – respect PH sovereignty

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 24) — President Rodrigo Duterte said the United States' lack of respect for Philippine sovereignty is the reason he has pivoted away from America and towards China and Russia.

In an interview with a Russian government-funded television network that aired on Friday, Duterte explained why he has sought stronger ties with non-traditional partners China and Russia.

"It's because they respect the sovereignty of the country which America is totally, totally, lacking," Duterte said.

"It's not only the Philippines but all over the world they do not respect sovereignties of the government," he added.

Duterte lamented how the US continues to treat the Philippines as a "vassal state" despite gaining independence more than a century ago. The US is the Philippines' longstanding ally, but one of the military agreements between the two countries may soon be scrapped.

Duterte recently ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement after the American government canceled the visa of a Filipino senator who previously led his bloody war on drugs.

Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa was former chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2018, when more than 4,000 people were killed in anti-drug operations. Dela Rosa said the US Embassy did not explain why his visa was voided, but he acknowledged it has something to do with alleged extrajudicial killings under his watch.

Aside from scrapping the two-decade deal that allows US troops to enter the Philippines without passport and visa limitations, Duterte also declined American President Donald Trump's invitation for him to visit the US for a meeting with other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

READ: Dela Rosa to urge Duterte to reconsider visiting US

Malacañang said Dela Rosa's invalidated visa was among the reasons for Duterte's refusal to set foot in the US. Duterte's spokesman, Salvador Panelo also said Duterte feels he would not be welcomed well by some American senators, and that he might even be denied entry – considering that he supposedly tops the list of Filipino officials banned in the US over the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima.

The US' 2020 budget law contains a provision that allows the ban on De Lima's accusers. Early this year, the US Senate also passed a bipartisan resolution asking Trump, to deny US entry to and freeze the assets of Filipino officials involved in drug war killings and in De Lima;s detention.

Malacañang has repeatedly said there are no state-sanctioned killings and the country's independent courts can prosecute and punish if ever there are police abuses.

US 'antagonizing the Chinese'

Duterte also hit the US for "always antagonizing the Chinese," and said he refuses to "dovetail under American foreign policy."

Washington calls out Beijing's alleged militarization of disputed areas in the South China Sea, including those occupied and claimed by Manila. The US does not claim any part of the global waterway but conducts freedom of navigation operations and criticizes China's actions.

Duterte admitted he has been soft on China, saying he "cannot afford" an aggressive stance that could result in war with the East Asian giant for fear of losing Filipino lives.

He added the US might just want "to take advantage and make a pretext that they are defending the Philippines and it will go... beyond our control."

By the end of the interview, however, Duterte clarified that he thinks Trump does not really intend to go to war, describing the tough-talking American leader as a "nice person."