PHOTO: The island of Huma in the Philippines. (Photo courtesy of Philippines Tourism)
U.S. and Philippine officials are seeking an explanation after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced military and economic separation from the U.S. during a forum with business leaders in China Thursday.
"America has lost now. I've realigned myself in your ideological flow," Duterte said Thursday via CNN. "And 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. It's the only way."
The statesman has developed a reputation for being brash and audacious. Nonetheless his vague remarks have prompted confusion around the globe.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told the New York Times that Duterte's comments are "inexplicably at odds with the very close relationship" the two countries share.
"We are going to be seeking an explanation of exactly what the president meant when he talked about separation from us," Kirby told the Times. "It's not clear to us exactly what that means and all its ramifications."
While the potential travel and tourism implications of Duterte's remarks remain to be seen, it's clear that the Philippines has more to lose as the U.S. is a key market for the destination in terms of visitation and visitor spending, trailing only South Korea.
Last year, the Philippines hosted a record 5.3 million foreign tourists, more than 14 percent of which came from the U.S.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans travel to the Philippines to experience its stunning beaches and unique culture, among other attractions. Therefore, any decision complicating or discouraging travel between the U.S. and Philippines is bound to deliver a blow to the Philippine economy, which relies heavily on the tourism industry.
By comparison, visitors from the Philippines accounted for just 0.3 percent of the 77.5 million international travelers the U.S. welcomed last year.