Duterte on the Big Stage: Philippines Leader Cozies up to Putin, Xi Jinping

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(CNN) — Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has again made it clear where he sees his country’s international allegiances.

After meeting his Russian and Chinese counterparts on the sidelines of the APEC summit, Duterte praised the leadership of Vladimir Putin and said the Philippines had long wanted to be “part of Europe.”

“But there was one thing that really stood before us, and that was the result of the Cold War,” he said.

Duterte added that the Philippines’ traditional identification with the “Western world” had loosened.

“It was good until it lasted. Of late, I see a lot of these Western nations bullying small nations,” he said.

“They are into so much hypocrisy. They seem to start war but are afraid to go to war. That is what’s wrong with America and the others.”

According to a statement from the Kremlin, Putin again congratulated Duterte on his election win and said the countries had managed to “build up trust” over their 40 years of diplomatic relations, which he referred to as a “very short period.”

‘New world order’

Since taking office in June 2016, Duterte has stunned the international community by lashing out at the US, including referring to President Barack Obama as a “son of a bitch.”

When Putin said Russia would withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week, Duterte was quick to offer his support by threatening to pull the Philippines out too.

“They withdrew their membership. I might follow,” he said in a statement. “Why? It’s us small countries that get beaten up.”

Duterte also reiterated his desire to align with Russia and China, saying that if those countries decided to “create a new world order,” he would be the “first to join.”

He has softened his tone on the US since the election of Donald Trump however, congratulating the new President-elect and wishing him luck.

South China Sea

Duterte’s talks with Xi included fishing rights in the Scarborough Shoal — known as Panatag Shoal in the Philippines — a source of contention between the Philippines and China.

The shoal is controlled by China, which claims most of the South China Sea, and Filipino fishermen have claimed they were harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard in traditional fishing waters.

Duterte raised the issue with Xi in a state visit to China in October 2016, causing China to suddenly lift its four-year blockade of the Scarborough Shoal and allow Filipino boats to access the area without harassment for the first time in years.

The concession from Beijing demonstrated Duterte’s pivot to China and marked a geopolitical setback for the US as Duterte’s state visit cemented the Philippine’s transformation from ardent China critic to potential ally.

At their APEC meeting, Duterte proposed setting up a marine sanctuary in the Scarborough Shoal lagoon. It would be a “no-fishing zone” for all fishermen to protect spawning grounds for young fish. Fisherman from both countries would have access to waters around it, CNN Philippines reported.

APEC is a regional economic forum established in 1989 to foster diplomatic and trade relations in the Asia-Pacific. In 2016, the Summit was held in Lima, Peru between November 19 to 20.

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