WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry expressed confidence Thursday that the U.S. relationship with the Philippines can survive recent turbulence as he swore in a new U.S. ambassador to the Southeast Asian nation.
Kerry administered the oath of office to Sung Kim, formerly the chief U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, in a ceremony at the State Department.
Kim, a career diplomat, takes up his new position in turbulent times. Outspoken Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June after winning a presidential election, has been antagonistic to Washington over human rights criticisms.
Duterte has forged closer ties with China — a blow to the Obama administration effort to forge deeper ties with Asia. He has declared his desire to scale back military engagements with the U.S. and has told President Barack Obama to "go to hell."
But Kerry remained confident about the future of the 70-year alliance between the U.S. and its former colony, "notwithstanding a difference here or there about one thing or another."
"Democratic elections bring change, and we must have the wisdom to recognize and adjust to that change. But the logic of our alliance and why we have stood together for so long," Kerry said, "are as compelling today as they have ever been."
Kerry met with Duterte in Manila in July and said Thursday he hopes to visit again before he ends his terms as secretary of state.
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the U.S. continues to regard the Philippines as an ally but stressed it isn't America's only friend in the region, where Washington has been pushing against China's assertive behavior in the disputed South China Sea.
"Our strategy, however, is strong and isn't dependent upon any single one of our friends or allies out there. And we have many. And there's a huge demand for us to do more. And the reason for that, quite honestly, just to be direct about it, is that many of them have concerns about Chinese behavior," Carter said during a question and answer session with soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Daniel Russel, top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, told reporters in Washington on Thursday that Chinese coast guard, navy and maritime militia vessels continue to be stationed near Scarborough Shoal — a disputed reef off the northern Philippines that China effectively seized in 2012. But he said that some Philippine fishing boats have now been able to fish in the vicinity of the shoal.
China granted that access after Duterte met with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders last month. The Philippine defense secretary said Sunday it is the first time in years Chinese coast guard ships have not harassed and stopped Filipinos from fishing there.
Russel said he hoped it was a step in the direction of respect for the July 12 decision of an international tribunal that invalidated Beijing's sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea. The ruling said both Filipinos and Chinese can fish at the shoal.
Associated Press writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.