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Asia's Game of Thrones
Duterte’s Spin Room Gets to Work

A day after the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte dramatically announced a “separation” from the United States, Philippine officials are trying to soften his comments (without fully contradicting them). Reuters:

Trade Minister Ramon Lopez sought to explain Duterte’s comments.

“Let me clarify. The president did not talk about separation,” Lopez told CNN Philippines in Beijing.

“In terms of economic (ties), we are not stopping trade, investment with America. The president specifically mentioned his desire to strengthen further the ties with China and the ASEAN region which we have been trading with for centuries,” he said, referring to the Association of South East Asian Nations.

He said the Philippines was “breaking being too much dependent on one side”.

Duterte’s spokesman, meanwhile, stated that the president wanted to “separate the nation from dependence on the U.S. and the West and rebalance economic and military relations with Asian neighbors.”

What all this means for U.S.-Philippines defense cooperation is unclear. When asked by reporters about Duterte’s comments, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that the U.S. intended to uphold its alliance commitments with the Philippines. He added, “obviously any relationship is one of mutuality and we will continue to discuss that with our Philippine counterparts.”

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Daniel Russel, is traveling to the Philippines this weekend and will be seeking clarity from counterparts in Manila. Watch this space: the fallout from the Philippine pivot is only just beginning.

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