Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s first official visit to Japan is in the works for next month, it was revealed Wednesday, setting the stage for stronger cooperation on maritime security.
Philippine and Japanese government sources confirm that an October visit is under discussion. Talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are on the agenda, with tensions in the South China Sea likely to take center stage. The two sides are expected to affirm the importance of a July ruling by an international arbitral tribunal denying China’s sweeping claims over the sea and urge Beijing to comply with the judgment.
Meeting with Duterte in Laos earlier this month, Abe pledged to supply the Philippines with two large patrol vessels financed through yen loans. The Philippine government reports that the president is set to visit Vietnam, another South China Sea country locked in territorial squabbles with China, by the end of the month.
The Philippines is also pursuing dialogue with Beijing to restore fishermen’s access to fishing grounds near the Scarborough Shoal, where Chinese vessels continue to turn fishing boats back.
Though Duterte has paid lip service to cooperation with the U.S. and Japan on security, he has also been fairly accommodating toward China. By inviting the president for talks before he has a chance to visit that continental heavyweight, Japan aims to keep the Philippines from succumbing to Beijing’s offers of economic assistance. The visit will be the president’s first to a nonmember of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations since taking office in June.
The Philippines is one of Asia’s star economies, with a population of 100 million and annual growth of around 6% powered by internal demand. If Duterte succeeds in his push to improve public safety, then “the investment climate will definitely, substantially improve” and foreign investors will come “rushing to the Philippines,” predicts Ernesto Pernia, director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority. The 1,400-plus Japanese companies already here could step up investment.
But the Duterte government has drawn condemnation from the U.S., the United Nations and others for sanctioning the extrajudicial killing of drug suspects as part of the same public safety offensive. The president, in turn, has criticized them for meddling in his country’s affairs. This has led to a chill in Philippine-American relations, including the cancellation of talks between Duterte and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Continued killings could deal a heavy blow to the Philippines’ image, causing investment to retreat, a source at a Japanese bank noted. Duterte’s visit aims in part to put these fears to rest.
Source and image: Nikkei