Among the many memorable lines from Rodrigo Duterte's run for the presidency was this colorful threat to Chinese leaders: If elected, he would personally ride a jet ski across the South China Sea to plant the Philippine flag on the Spratly Islands that are claimed by both countries as their own. Just past 100 days into his controversial reign, Duterte headed north this morning instead, arriving in Beijing — by airplane.
Indeed, much has changed in these few short months. Though he has garnered the most attention for the violent anti-drug countdown at home that has left more than 2,300 dead, Duterte has also made waves internationally. Not only has he had shockingly harsh words for both President Obama and Pope Francis, Duterte seems intent on overturning a half-century of foreign policy built around tight relations with U.S.
This helps to explain today's soft landing in China to meet President Xi Jinping. Playing world powers off of each other is a favorite tactic of ambitious leaders of smaller regional players. But there may also be reasons closer to home for Duterte, who himself is of Chinese descent. At a forum last week Duterte had this message for Filipino businessmen: "Study the Chinese style. It's an innate thing in them, the art of doing business," he said.
Yesterday, on the eve of his visit, which would include some 400 Filipino business leaders, Duterte spoke with the state Chinese news agency Xinhua: "Some other countries know we are short of money, but instead of helping us, all they had to do was just to criticize. China never criticizes," he said. "They help us quietly. It's part of the sincerity of the people." Duterte's is yet another immigrant story, and his state visit to China is one more foreign business trip.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY
- Barack Obama to welcome Italian PM Matteo Renzi, for the last state dinner of Obama's presidency.
- Super Typhoon Haima aims for the Philippines .
- Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to announce its 2017 inductees.