Rodrigo Duterte

Japan wary of Philippine leader Duterte’s manners, hopes he doesn’t chew gum in front of emperor

Acid-tongued Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte meets Emperor Akihito on Friday during a diplomatic roadshow to Japan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 3:35pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 3:12pm

The outspoken Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte worries his Japanese hosts. Not just his policy toward the US but also his informal style: will he chew gum in front of the emperor?

Duterte arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday for a three-day visit, his first since becoming Philippine leader at the end of June.

For diplomats and political leaders, the main issue is his US policy and how Japan can help mend those ties.

He kicked off his visit with exactly the kind of remarks officials in Tokyo are worried about, by slamming the US, calling Washington a “bully” for chastising him over his bloody war on drugs.

“The Americans are really a bully,” Duterte told a large gathering of Filipinos living in Japan.

He called it “demeaning” for Washington to hint at slashing aid and assistance to his country on human rights grounds, and said, “You can have it. It’s all yours. We will survive.”

The populist leader said he is willing to be imprisoned in the future over his crackdown on drug sellers and addicts, which critics say had led to hundreds, if not thousands, of extrajudicial killings.

“If you have the evidence, go ahead and file the case,” he said. “I can rot in prison for my country.”

The “naked truth”, he said, is that the Philippines was becoming a nation of drug addicts, with 4 million of them spread out all over the country, and “I have to do something.”

“What am I supposed to do with 4 million?” he asked.

Duterte said progressive countries in the West had no right to “chastise” and “reprimand” him for just doing his job to protect future generations of Filipinos, calling that “insulting.”

“Do not **** with our dignity,” he said. “I carry the burden of sovereignty.”

Tokyo is a major US ally, and has watched with concern as Duterte criticised the US and said he would scale back his country’s military engagement with America. He has also worried Japan and the United States by reaching out to China.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he planned to ask Duterte what his real intentions are when the two have dinner Tuesday. He said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will do the same on Wednesday.

“I think it would be important that we ... directly hear opinions from President Duterte himself,” Kishida said.

The worries about Duterte were reinforced Tuesday when he lashed out again at the US in a departure speech at the Manila airport.

He called Americans “foolish,” saying their land is stricken with “pure bigotry and discrimination,” a day after senior American diplomat Daniel Russel criticised Duterte’s controversial remarks and unclear intentions.

“These Americans are really foolish,” Duterte said, adding Americans travel to the Philippines “like somebody, without visas, these sillies.”

He also made a veiled threat to revoke a 2014 defence pact allowing large numbers of US troops, warships and planes to enter the Philippines for combat drills.

Referring to the pact, Duterte said, “Forget it,” adding that in the future, “I do not want to see any military man of any other nation except the Philippine soldier.”

Confusingly, that came after Duterte on Monday told Japanese media that the US will remain the country’s sole military ally.

In Japan, a country where formality and politeness are highly valued, some are worried about Duterte’s rough side, particularly when he meets Emperor Akihito on Friday.

Japanese TV shows have repeatedly shown Duterte apparently chewing gum at meetings and other public occasions.

In footage of a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Duterte walked in with his hands in his pockets and chewed gum during the handshake and a signing ceremony.

“When he makes a courtesy visit to the emperor, his behaviour could have a major impact,” senior lawmaker Itsunori Onodera said Sunday on Fuji TV. “I trust he understands the consequences and would not do such a thing (as chewing gum). I do hope the Philippine side will remind him of that particular point.”

Duterte often doesn’t button the top button of his shirt, wears jeans and has been seen without socks.

In Japan, where the emperor was considered a living god until the end of the second world war, people are expected to be extra polite to him and his family.

“It’s unbelievable. I have never seen anything like that!” former diplomat Kunihiko Miyake said on Fuji TV.

“How could he dare to behave in ways that could cause his host to lose face.”

Japan is expected to offer Manila two large Coast Guard patrol boats – on top of an earlier pledge of 10 smaller ones – and TC-90 military training aircraft to help boost the Philippine’s maritime security in the South China Sea.

Additional reporting by Kyodo