Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, speaking in a country that is a staunch U.S. ally and hosts 50,000 American troops, said Wednesday that he wants his country to be free of foreign troops, possibly within two years.
“I want to be friends to China,” he told an audience of businesspeople in Tokyo. “I do not need the arms. I do not want missiles established in my country. I do not need to have the airports to host the bombers.”
He was referring to visiting U.S. troops, whose presence in five Philippine military camps was established under a security deal signed under Duterte’s predecessor as a counterbalance to China’s growing military assertiveness in the region.
Since taking office at the end of June, Duterte has reached out to Beijing while criticizing U.S. foreign policy. His approach has caused consternation in both the U.S. and Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to ask Duterte about his foreign policy when they meet later Wednesday.
In his speech, the Philippine leader departed at the end of his prepared remarks on economic development and investment to address the topic that he said he knows is “what is in everybody’s mind.”
He said he is pursuing an independent foreign policy, and that he wants foreign troops to leave, maybe in the next two years. “I want them out,” he said.
“I may have ruffled the feelings of some but that is how it is,” he said. “We will survive, without the assistance of America, maybe a lesser quality of life, but as I said, we will survive.”
Duterte is on a three-day visit to Japan. After meeting Abe, he is attending a banquet hosted by the Japanese leader. On Thursday, he is set to meet Emperor Akihito.