Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe became the first head of state to visit the Philippines since Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency there, dining on local fare and even touring Duterte’s bedroom at his southern Mindanao home.
Abe stayed overnight at the home of Duterte and his common-law wife Honeylet Avanceña, who cooked the Prime Minister a traditional meal of “sticky rice cakes and mung bean soup,” according to the Philippine outlet ABS-CBN.
Duterte, clad in a simple plaid shirt and no socks, gave Abe a tour of Davao city, including its largest Japanese-language school. Duterte served a mayor of Davao for over 20 years before assuming the presidency in June 2016.
Duterte honored Abe with the ceremonial adoption of an eagle named Sakura, after the Japanese cherry blossom, and a stuffed animal rendition of Sakura, seen held by the Japanese First Lady Akie Abe.
According to Duterte aide Christopher Go, the president also showed Abe his “old and favorite mosquito net” for use while sleeping.
Reuters notes there was little indication the two heads of state discussed any official political matters during the visit, save for Abe announcing that his country would implement an “aid and investment package” worth nearly $9 million, aimed at rehabilitating pivotal Philippines infrastructure. The package also sets aside funding for new boats to be used as part of Manila’s Coast Guard efforts, a nod on Japan’s part to growing concern that Duterte has allowed the Chinese government to encroach too much on Philippine territory in the South China Sea.
Abe has previously referred to the South China Sea dispute as being “linked directly to regional peace and stability and is a concern to the entire international community.”
While Japan does not have any territorial claims in the South China Sea, China claims Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and has established an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over them, which forces Japan to tell China when Japanese aircraft fly over Japanese territory. Japan has largely disregarded the ADIZ, established in 2013, after President Barack Obama stated in a speech that any Chinese attack on Japanese aircraft over the islands would trigger a U.S. response by treaty.
Becoming the first head of state to visit Duterte in the Philippines expands upon Abe’s budding relationship with the often unpredictable president. It also highlights Abe’s commitment to engaging international political actors that have developed reputations for bluntness and eschewing formalities when not beneficial, as in the case of his visit to Trump Tower in November. As with Duterte, Abe became the first head of state to meet President-elect Donald Trump personally.
Abe had met with Duterte on multiple occasions before his trip to Davao city and had reportedly questioned Duterte on his calls for the Philippines to abandon its longstanding policy allying it with the United States in order to become closer with China. Duterte told reporters that, when Abe questioned his insults towards the United States, he replied, “I told him they were mere words, why would you give these things any importance?”
Duterte has cashed on in his words to the tune of $14 million and counting — the amount China promised to invest in new military equipment for the Philippines in December. “It’s not much, $14.4 million worth,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said at the time but noted it would pay for “small arms, boats, and night vision goggles” to be used in fighting the war on drugs Duterte launched upon assuming the presidency.