Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has cut ties with the United States, pledging allegiance to China as the two countries settled their long-running dispute over the South China Sea.
"I've realigned myself," Duterte said in a speech at Beijing's Great Hall of the People. "Maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines, and Russia.
"With that, in this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States," Duterte continued. "America has lost now." It's reported that this prompted cheers from the crowd, which included 200 Chinese and Filipino businesspeople as well as Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli.
When asked about America's response to Duterte's comments, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said they would be seeking a clarification of what was meant by "separation." "It's not clear to us exactly what that means and all its ramifications," he said.
US-Philippine relations have deteriorated rapidly since Duterte, a former mayor, rose to the presidency in June. Back in April, the two countries were discussing expanding the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows American army troops to use military bases in the Philippines.
By September, President Barack Obama canceled a trip to the Philippines, after Duterte referred to him as a "son of a whore."
Duterte has also launched a hardline war on drugs in the Philippines, which has killed more than 2,000 drug users, dealers, and innocent civilians in a few short months. The Philippine Inquirer keeps a detailed list of those killed day-to-day, chronicling names, ages, and why they were killed. While police have shot dead some of these people, the majority have been slain by vigilantes, who the Duterte government has failed to crack down on.
When the UN urged the Philippine president to stop the slayings, Duterte argued the killings couldn't be considered crimes against humanity because those being killed "aren't human." Specifically, while visiting a group of soldiers, he asked: "Crime against humanity? In the first place, I'd like to be frank with you: Are they humans? What is your definition of a 'human being'?"
An improvement of the country's relationship with China does open up economic possibilities for the Philippines. After Duterte's speech in Beijing, his trade secretary, Ramon Lopez, said $17.6 billion in deals would be signed between the two countries.
However, the Philippines will have to compromise on the long-disputed South China Sea—an energy-rich region that Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Malaysia have also claimed as their own. Earlier this year, the Hague actually ruled in favor of the Philippines over the South China Sea dispute.