Abe, Duterte discuss ‘terror’ and development at Tokyo meeting

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 10:57pm

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte won pledges from Japan of help with fighting terrorism and assistance in building the country’s crumbling infrastructure, as he met with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday during a visit to Tokyo.

After Abe pledged 1 trillion yen (US$8.8 billion) in aid over five years during his visit to the Philippines in January, the leaders are expected to announce the specific areas where it will be spent.

Japan’s help to the Philippines reflects the importance it places on maintaining bilateral ties as a counter to China’s expanding influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

At the outset of the talks, Abe expressed his “respect” for Duterte’s leadership in light of the Philippine government’s recent declaration of victory over militants inspired by Islamic State after a five-month battle in Marawi, a city in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

“I fully support your fight against terrorism, and will continue to offer you as much assistance as possible,” Abe told Duterte.

“This is a partnership that has withstood the test of time, (and) today let me say with firm resolve that the Philippines is ready to work with Japan in building a golden age of our strategic partnership,” Duterte replied.

According to the joint statement, areas of infrastructure cooperation over the next five years will include the operation of a subway system in metropolitan Manila, increasing connectivity between regions through the construction of roads and bridges, and reinforcing rivers to manage the risk of flooding.

The leaders agreed that Japan will “extend the utmost support” for the rebuilding and revitalisation of Marawi and the surrounding areas, initially providing equipment for reconstruction before considering further help in line with a survey of the area’s needs to be conducted by the Philippine government.

Japan will also support counterterrorism efforts to prevent extremist groups in the vein of IS from taking hold in Asia. Counterterrorism is a key factor for Japan in its planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The leaders’ fourth sit-down meeting since Duterte took power in June 2016 will also allow them to lay the groundwork for important regional meetings next month, including the Philippines’ hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders’ summit and East Asia Summit.

For Tokyo, a successful Asean summit would include commitments to make progress on territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

According to the statement, Japan’s assistance will include the improvement of the Philippines’ coastal surveillance capabilities to “ensure the effective cooperation” of patrol vessels provided by Japan.

While Japan is not a claimant in the disputes between China, the Philippines and four other governments in the South China Sea, it worries about the impact of China’s activities on crucial shipping lanes and faces a separate claim by Beijing to the Japanese-controlled Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

The leaders also agreed that Japan will help prevent the use of illegal drugs in the Philippines and relapses by users under a medium- and long-term plan. This cooperation fits in with Duterte’s war on drugs, which have drawn criticism from human rights advocates overseas.

Abe and Duterte were also expected to exchange views on how to increase pressure on North Korea in light of the threat from the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile development.

Before leaving for Japan on Sunday, Duterte expressed hope that the United States, Japan and South Korea would seek dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to dissuade him from pursuing his nuclear ambitions.

On Tuesday, Duterte will meet Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, an itinerary item that initially raised concerns among some in the Japanese government because of the Philippine president’s past controversial remarks and behaviour, a government source said.

However, Duterte has expressed a strong desire to meet the Japanese imperial couple for the first time after a plan to do so during his visit to Japan a year ago was cancelled due to the death of Prince Mikasa, an uncle of Emperor Akihito, a diplomatic source said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press