Duterte’s Japan visit to focus on defense, investments

Pia Ranada
The Philippine president will visit a ship-building company and meet with top Japanese business leaders during his official visit from October 25 to 27

INVITATION TO JAPAN. President Rodrigo Duterte and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet in Vientiane, Laos during the ASEAN Summit in early September 2016. Photo from PPD

BEIJING, China – After back-to-back state visits to Brunei and China, President Rodrigo Duterte will soon fly to Japan for an official visit from October 25 to 27. 

His Japan trip will be his 6th foreign trip as Philippine president. It was arranged after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally invited Duterte to his country during a Southeast Asian summit in Laos last September. 

Talks on economic cooperation and investments, defense cooperation, and a commemoration of 60 years of diplomatic ties between the Philippines and Japan will be the highlights of Duterte’s visit.

In Japan, Abe and Duterte are expected to hold a meeting. Abe will also host a dinner for Duterte and members of the official Philippine delegation, according to Minister for Political Affairs of the Japanese embassy Atsushi Ueno. 

“The two leaders are expected to discuss bilateral issues and regional issues and through these conversations…We expect to reaffirm the cooperation on regional and international issues,” said Ueno.

One issue Japanese officials may be interested to discuss with Duterte is the West Philippine Sea dispute between the Philippines and China.

Japan wants freedom of navigation to be preserved in the sea lanes of the West Philippine Sea. China’s expansive claim to these waters is seen as a threat to freedom of navigation.

When the Philippines’ claim to the West Philippine Sea was affirmed by an international arbitration court, Japan backed the ruling and urged China to comply. Chinese officials, however, have declared that the ruling is nothing but a “piece of waste paper.”

Duterte is not sure if the West Philippine Sea issue will crop up in his talks with Abe.

“If you’re asking me now since I have to talk to [Prime] Minister Abe, I cannot make any projections,” he said during an October 21 press conference in Davao City. 

But he said that multilateral talks with China and Japan are possible in the future.

“It could be bilateral [with China], depends on the development. It could be multilateral and that would include Japan. Those are what I suggested, in the future,” said Duterte.

Economy, investments

Similar to his China visit, Duterte will meet with top Japanese business leaders and possibly keynote a business summit. He will be accompanied by Filipino businessmen, some with investments in Japan, according to sources. 

It’s also possible that economic managers in Duterte’s Cabinet will meet with Japanese companies interested in bidding for infrastructure projects in the Philippines like the Mindanao Railway, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said on October 19.

He previously said Japanese companies, aside from Chinese ones, are eyeing the massive infrastructure project. The Mindanao Railway was among Duterte’s biggest campaign promises. 

Japan has long been a partner of the Philippine government in transportation and infrastructure projects. 

Last year, Japan announced it would lend the Philippines P93 billion for the Tutuban-Malolos railway. 

New ships, plane

Aside from trade and investments, defense cooperation is on the agenda. 

Duterte is set to visit a company in Yokohama City that makes coast guard vessels. In fact, one of its vessels, named BRP Tubbataha, was turned over recently by the Japanese government to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). 

“President Duterte is also planning to visit Japan Marine United Corporation, where the company is making Coast Guard vessels provided for PCG…So President Duterte will actually see the company, how the Coast Guard vessels [are] built,” said Ueno.

Nine more of these vessels will be delivered to the Philippines soon, he added.

Japan is also set to hand over a Japanese training airplane, called the TC-90, to the Philippines. 

Japan is the Philippines’ top source of Official Development Assistance.

Yet another highlight of Duterte’s visit is his state call on Emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace. Last January, the Emperor and Empress Michiko made a state visit to the Philippines. 

Like in other foreign trips, Duterte is set to meet members of the Filipino community in Japan. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.