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‘I go to Japan with full trust’

Duterte hopes to deepen, broaden ties with PH’s top trading partner

OFF TO JAPAN – President Rodrigo R. Duterte (center, left) salutes the troops with Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, Tuesday, before boarding his flight for a three-day visit to Japan. (AP)

OFF TO JAPAN – President Rodrigo R. Duterte (center, left) salutes the troops with Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City, Tuesday, before boarding his flight for a three-day visit to Japan. (AP)

President Duterte flew to Japan yesterday for a three-day official visit aimed at deepening and broadening the country’s ties with its top trading partner and one of its valued strategic allies.

“I go to Japan with full trust that we can understand each other and Japan will understand my position vis-à-vis with the foreign policy that I want to implement. It’s just a question of a policy that is really truly Filipino,” the Chief Executive said in a press briefing before his departure for Tokyo. He described Japan as one of the Philippines’ “true friends.”

“With Japan as the Philippines’ top trading partner, I shall seek the sustainment and further enhancement of our important economic ties. I look forward to meeting business leaders in Japan. I will tell them clearly that the Philippines is open for business,” Duterte stated.

To support the Philippines’ sustained growth and development, the President said he shall seek to open more avenues of cooperation in key infrastructure development.

“In particular, we can tap the experience and expertise of Japan in developing high quality and modern public transportation,” he said.

Duterte also sees his trip as an opportunity for him to personally thank Japan for its pre-eminent and peerless role as the Philippines’ development partner, and to the strengthening of this role through more high-impact projects that will benefit the Philippines.

“Mindanao will be a central focus as, together with Japan, we shall seek to put on track this island-region towards a just and lasting peace and development,” he said.

Japan’s apprehension

Duterte also said he looks forward to meeting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again in Tokyo. He said Abe’s invitation extended at the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting in Laos last September paves the way for discussions on key issues of mutual importance to the Philippines and Japan.

But experts had earlier noted that the Japanese Prime Minister is in a tough spot given Duterte’s harsh rhetoric against the United States.

Japanese officials are wary ahead of the arrival of the outspoken Philippine President. Their concern is not only about his foreign policy toward the US, but also about his informal style.

Atsushi Ueno, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Japanese embassy, said last week that Abe would likely want to listen to Duterte’s explanation on his shift in foreign policy.

Duterte’s trip to Japan follows his state visit to China where he announced his “separation” from the US – a statement which he also clarified upon his arrival last Friday.

The President clarified that it’s “not severance of ties,” but a “separation of foreign policy, that it need not dovetail the foreign policy of America.”

For diplomats and political leaders, the main issue is Duterte’s foreign policy toward Washington and how Japan can help mend those ties.

Tokyo is a major ally of the United States, and has watched as Duterte increasingly voiced attacks on the US and said he would scale back America’s military engagement with his country. And he has worried Japan and the United States by reaching out strongly to China.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged Duterte’s remarks have triggered concerns, and told reporters he planned to ask what his real intentions were when the two have dinner later Tuesday. He said Prime Minister Abe will do the same on Wednesday.

“I think it would be important that we fully communicate through these occasions and directly hear opinions from President Duterte himself,” Kishida said.

But in a country where formality and politeness are highly valued, others are worried about the rough side of Duterte’s manners. They are particularly concerned about his meeting with Emperor Akihito on Friday.

In Japan, where the Emperor was considered a living god until the end of World War II, people are expected to be extra polite in front of him and his family.

While serving as a mediator between the two allies, Japan’s main contribution to Manila is likely to be two large Coast Guard patrol boats – in addition to an earlier pledge of 10 smaller ones – and TC-90 military training aircraft to help boost the Philippine maritime security in the South China Sea.


Nothing to worry about

But House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said Japan does not have worry about the Philippines’ recent rebalancing of foreign policy away from the United States or play the role of peacemaker between the two nations.

The Philippines merely wants to “befriend” Asian neighbors and “bond” with them as President Duterte embarks on a three-day official visit to Japan, Alvarez said.

“We are not severing ties with anyone. We want to maintain diplomacy with almost all countries in the world,” Alvarez said in a media interview, ahead of the President’s arrival in Tokyo.

“We are all neighbors in Asia. We should befriend our neighbors, we should bond together as Asians,” Alvarez added.

In his departure speech yesterday, Duterte described his visit to Tokyo as “most-awaited” and a “valuable opportunity to further deepen and broaden the Philippines’ relationship with Japan, our valued strategic partner and one of our true friends,” he said.

Aside from his foreign policy, among other issues that Duterte is expected to discuss when he meets with Abe are greater politico-social and defense cooperation, particularly in maritime domain awareness and maritime security.

Duterte is also set to meet the leaders of the Japan-Philippines Parliamentarians Friendship League to seek greater interaction between the collaboration by our legislators to a common agenda.

“This is an important time for Philippines-Japan relations as we advance an independent foreign policy in our engagement with the community of nations. This is a defining moment for the solid and strategic partnership between Japan and the Philippines, carefully nurtured over 600 years of formal diplomatic relations,” he said.

During his state visit, Duterte will also pay a courtesy call on His Majesty the Emperor.

“This courtesy call is imbued with great and special significance. It reaffirms at the highest level the positive transformation of ties between our nations and peoples. It renews our shared commitment to a forward-looking partnership that is founded on mutual respect, dignity and solidarity,” said the President. (With a report from AP)