U.S. welcomes warmer PH-China ties

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U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said "there is a deep well spring of affection and a deep well spring of respect" between the United States and the Philippines, as America has high regard for Philippine sovereignty and independence.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The United States welcomed renewed dialogue between the Philippines and China, and saw no reason for concern in Manila's pursuit of closer ties with Beijing, a U.S. State Department official said Monday.

"The United States welcomes relaxation in relations between Beijing and Manila," said Daniel Russel, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Russel spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a bilateral discussion he held Monday with Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay. His remarks are the first official reaction from U.S. officials following President Rodrigo Duterte's remarks on Thursday during his state visit to China that the Philippines was "separating" from its longtime ally, the United States.

Manila's moves to forge closer ties with Beijing need not come as a tradeoff in bilateral relations with Washington, Russel said, as he cited U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Manila in July shortly after Duterte took office. "He (Kerry) made it clear that we support direct dialogue negotiations between the Philippines and China; as long as they take place on terms that are acceptable to the Philippines. As long as they are consistent with international law."

"So it's a mistake to think that improved relations between Manila and Beijing somehow come at the expense of United States. That's not the way that we think," Russel said.

"But we do want countries to be able to choose, to have choices, to have autonomy, to make their own decisions in keeping with their democratic values in keeping with international law,' he added.

Duterte sent another round of diplomatic shockwaves reverberating when, during a dinner last Thursday with Filipino and Chinese businessmen officials, he said: "I announce my separation from the United States, both in military, not maybe social, but economics also."

The President later on clarified his remarks upon arrival in Manila in Saturday, saying that "separation" did not mean "severance" of ties between the Philippines and the US.

Russel said that in their meeting, Yasay had clarified further Duterte's remarks. "Now, President Duterte himself has already walked back, and explained, and comment about 'separation' from the United States. He described it as a reference to maintaining an independent foreign policy," he said. "Well, if 'separation' means that the goverment in Manila makes its own foreign policy decisions based on its own assessment of the Philippines' national interest, then there's no need for change," Russel added.

This was backed up by Foreign Secretary Yasay in an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines on Sunday. "We will continue to respect our agreements with you," Yasay said referring the the U.S. "We know the many things that you have extended to us in the past for which we are grateful for," he told CNN.

The sentiment was reaffirmed by Russel on Monday. "So let me end where I began, by strongly reaffirming America's enduring bond of friendship, respect, and sheer value with the people of the Philippines," he said, before departing for a meeting with Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Yasay spoke to reporters a few minutes after Russel and said the Philippines will continue to strengthen its ties with the United States, being its "only military ally," while emphasizing President Duterte's desire for an indepedent foreign policy.

"Our thrust, however, in carrying out an independent foreign policy is to make sure that we will not have this kind of dependency or subservience that have always worked against the national interest," Yasay said.