01:33 GMT +320 August 2019
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    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte pose for photo during the ASEAN Plus Three Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 7, 2016.

    Foreign Policy Shift? Philippines' Duterte Heads to China Amid Tensions With US

    © REUTERS / Soe Zeya Tun
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    The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, will this week lead a major business delegation to China for talks amid an improvement in relations between the two countries and speculation Manila may be set for a dramatic foreign policy shift away from the US.

    Duterte will be joined by hundreds of Filipino business figures on the three-day visit, as he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss a range of trade, business and investment issues.

    It's thought that Duterte will sound out Chinese officials over the possibility of greater Chinese investment in the Philippines, with the country facing an infrastructure shortage amid plans to construct upgraded rail links around the country.

    ​However, there is also speculation the meeting will attempt to lay the foundations for greater trade and political ties between the two countries, which have thawed following the election of Duterte as president earlier this year.

    A spokesperson from the Chinese foreign ministry said the meeting would "help increase political mutual trust, strengthen pragmatic cooperation [and] extend traditional friendship," while China's ambassador to the Philippines said recently praised the improvement in relations between the two countries.

    ​"The clouds are fading away. The sun is rising over the horizon, and will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations," Zhao Jianhua recently told reporters.

    Foreign Policy Shift?

    The improving relations between Manila and Beijing, along with Duterte's public criticism of long-time ally the US, has led to speculation the Philippine president may be considering a dramatic foreign policy shift away from Washington, with Beijing to fill the void.

    Duterte recently called US President Barack Obama a "son of a whore," while also telling him to "go to hell," following US criticism of the Philippine president's hardline stance on drug dealers and users in the country, which some estimate has led to at least 2,000 killings since he took office at the end of June.

    ​However, the anti-American sentiment has extended beyond personal insults, with Duterte last month saying he would end joint US-Filipino military drills.

    He also declared: "I will break up with America," during a recent speech, adding that:

    "I would rather go to Russia and to China."

    While the sentiment has led to suggestions the Filipino president is looking to dramatically change the country's foreign policy stance, many commentators have argued that it is still too early to see whether Duterte's rhetoric will be backed up by long-term moves away from the US. 

    ​The developments come at a time of increased tension in Asia, with many countries at loggerheads over disputed islands in the South China Sea. 

    While the Philippines is also locked in a dispute with China over the issue, Duterte has employed a softer tone towards Beijing than his predecessors, leading to fears from critics that the Filipino president will be bullied into supporting China if it wants greater Chinese investment in the country.

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    Tags:
    foreign relations, US foreign policy, drug, trade, Rodrigo Duterte, Xi Jinping, Barack Obama, China, United States, Southeast Asia, Asia, Philippines
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