MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte wants Filipino soldiers to conduct training in China as he continues to seek warmer ties with Beijing despite the longstanding dispute in the South China Sea.
Duterte said there is a need for “balance” in terms of the training destination of soldiers because most of them prefer to pursue their studies in the United States, perceived as a rival of China.
“Most of the Filipino soldiers… would immediately choose America. They have forged such bond,” the President said during the 20th anniversary of the Chinese-Filipino Business Club in Manila last Monday.
“My suggestion is the next batch should go directly to China… so there would be balance. I’m sure there is an academy there to train good professional Chinese soldiers. Maybe China can accommodate them also and let them… not really to fight the Americans but terrorism,” he added.
But Duterte clarified that the Philippines would not cut its ties with its traditional ally the US, which he has accused of interfering with the Philippines’ internal issues.
“Let us be very clear on this, we are in good terms with America. Special terms, military alliance – that’s why we cannot enter into another military alliance with any country because there’s only one,” he said, referring to the Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington.
“Philippines now is veering towards China. But we maintain good relations. We have this (Philippines-US) pact defense deal, we will honor it, I don’t know when. But if we go to war, everything wilts,” the President added.
Duterte claimed that the war among countries now is “on trade, not territory.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines cannot afford to declare war over the South China Sea row.
“We’re in good terms with both the US and China. So, it is not to our national interest to go to war, which is what some people want… They perceive our (position on China to be weak), they want to assert our national sovereignty I guess through military means,” Roque said.
“But the President is saying, ‘We don’t have to do that. We are in good terms with the Americans. We’re on excellent terms with the Chinese. If there’s conflict between them, so be it. But we will not take part in it,” he added.