TOKYO – President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Japan on Tuesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe amid rising concern about his stance over the South China Sea issue and hostile rhetoric toward the United States.
Abe, who meets Duterte on Wednesday, is expected to stress the importance of the US presence in the Asia-Pacific region amid China’s rising assertiveness in the South China Sea, where Beijing is in a territorial dispute with Manila and four other governments, a senior Japanese diplomat said.
Duterte’s visit, his first to Japan since taking office in June, follows a four-day trip to China last week during which he declared “separation from the United States” both militarily and economically, and suggested the Philippines would be much better off aligning itself with China.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the Japanese government is “not worried at all about” Duterte’s recent remarks suggesting the Philippines distancing itself from the United States.
“Japan wants to take the opportunity of the president’s visit to further promote cooperation in dealing with the South China Sea issue,” the top government spokesman said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is set to host a dinner for Duterte later Tuesday at a Japanese restaurant.
Japan seeks to confirm with the Philippines the importance of the rule of law at sea, including the need to abide by the international arbitration tribunal ruling in July that Beijing’s sweeping claims to historical rights in the South China Sea have no legal basis, Japanese officials said.
The Philippines brought the case before Duterte took office.
In the talks with Duterte, Abe is expected to offer Japan’s assistance to enhance the Philippines’ maritime patrol capabilities, to build infrastructures and for agricultural development in the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao, where Duterte long served as mayor of Davao city, Japanese officials said.
Duterte will also deliver a speech at an economic forum on Wednesday and meet Emperor Akihito on Thursday.