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President Duterte off to visit Japan today

President Duterte leaves today for a three-day state visit to Japan, a week after his visits to Brunei and China. Japan is one of our closest economic and security partners as well as a major source of official development assistance. During his visit, President Duterte is looking forward to meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as with Emperor Akihito, a recent Philippine visitor.

On the eve of President Duterte’s visit to Japan, however, that country has expressed concern over President Duterte’s recent statements on foreign policy while visiting China last week. Prime Minister Abe would like to listen to President Duterte’s explanation of his new foreign policy, according to Atsushi Ueno, deputy chief of mission of the Japanese Embassy here.Editorial

Japan is not alone in wondering about Philippine foreign policy. The United States, which appears to be most directly affected by the new policy, has similarly expressed concern. President Duterte’s own Cabinet members are not quite so sure themselves.

The President was addressing the Philippines-China Trade and Investment Forum in Beijing, when he declared : ”In this venue, I announce my separation from the United States both in the military … not social … but economics also…” It was a speech before private businessmen, it must be stressed, not before officials of the Chinese government. If it had been the latter, it would had the weight of an official declaration with grave implications for Philippines-US relations.

The next day, President Duterte’s Cabinet men pointed out that he had merely said “separation.” “That is not annulment. That is not a divorce,” said Communications Secretary Martin Andanar. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the President’s statement was merely a reiteration of his wish for an independent foreign policy.

This is not the first time President Duterte has spoken out on Philippine-American relations but he has always stepped back after particularly vitriolic comments. In the coming days, we may expect more clarificatory statements from the President’s men and we expect they will be along the view put forward by presidential spokesman Abella – that the Philippines simply wants a more independent foreign policy, that is one less dependent on the United States.

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe will ask about the same issue when President Duterte visits Japan starting today, principally because Japan is a close ally of the US, especially in its own dispute wih China over certain islands in the East China Sea. We expect the President will be able to make his position clear and, at the end of the state visit, we look forward to a new era of closer relations with Japan.