MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte assured Japan of support as he toured the biggest Japanese warship, the JS Izumo, docked at the Alava Pier in Subic Bay, Zambales for a goodwill visit.
"Japan is [a] historical friend. It has a long history of helping us mostly. If you go there to Mindanao and the rest of the country, you'll find so many [projects funded by] JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency)," Duterte told reporters on Sunday, June 4.
"Japan has been a very helpful friend... and I know that we will be with them for all time. They can count on our gratitude for helping us and also our friendship to fight [alongside] them... I'd like Japan to know that we are a people of gratitude," he added.
Malacañang said Duterte, "the first head of state to set foot on the ship," received military honors as he arrived to visit the JS Izumo. The Philippine leader and his entourage were then given a tour of the massive helicopter carrier.
China, North Korea
Asked by a reporter for Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun if the partnership between Manila and Tokyo would restrain Beijing from provocative activities in disputed waters, Duterte reiterated the Philippines would push for a Code of Conduct (COC) this year.
Last May 19, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China finished drafting the framework for the COC on the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). The Philippines is the ASEAN chairman for 2017.
"The last [time] that we talked with [Chinese] President Xi Jinping, one of the issues that I raised was could we have the Code of Conduct for the sea before the ASEAN or during the ASEAN proper itself [in November]," Duterte said on Sunday.
"I think everybody just wants to follow the resolution of conflict in a peaceful way and the observance of the rule of law," he added.
Back in May, Duterte had claimed Xi warned him of war if the Philippines "forces the issue" in the disputed South China Sea. Senators questioned why the Duterte administration was "tolerating" the threat of war, but Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano downplayed it and denied there was "bullying" by China.
On Sunday, Duterte said: "I will be sending Cayetano on several missions because I really want the Code of Conduct of the sea to be passed during the ASEAN heads of state meeting here. Everybody will appreciate it." (READ: Cayetano wary of 'legally binding' rules in South China Sea)
But more than the dispute over the West Philippine Sea, Duterte said world leaders are worried about North Korea's series of missile launches. (READ: North Korea missile tests 'disturbing' for PH – expert)
"The only thing that bothers us all, kaming mga nasa itaas (us leaders), is the ruckus now going on in the Korean Peninsula. I hope that guy (Kim Jong-Un) does not commit a mistake. It could be a serious one... He keeps on flying those missiles, one of these days mag-landing 'yan sa Luneta, tignan mo (a missile will land at Luneta in Manila, you'll see)," he said.