Japan to Invest Billions in Philippines, Pulling Duterte Out of China’s Orbit

Japan is one of the top US allies in Asia, and Rodrigo Duterte (L) said Shinzo Abe (R) had raised the issue with him in a meeting
AFP Kimimasa Mayama

In an in-person meeting in Tokyo on Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced a mammoth cooperation package that will infuse the Philippine economy with billions in infrastructure, business, and public safety initiatives.

Duterte is in Japan to meet with both his counterpart, Abe, and greet Emperor Akihito. Abe visited Duterte in his home in Mindanao in January.

The Philippine outlet ABS-CBN reported on Monday that Japan would invest $8.8 million in a variety of “infrastructure, counter-terrorism and public safety initiatives” over the next five years, including investing in the “improvement of the Philippines’ coastal surveillance capabilities.”

Manila has struggled to maintain its borders in the face of a continued assault on its sovereignty from China, which has invested heavily in building artificial islands out of reefs claimed by the Philippines. China claims South China Sea territory within the sovereign Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei, and waters off the coast of Indonesia.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe also made note of Duterte’s struggle against the attempted establishment of an Islamic State caliphate within the majority Catholic Philippines. “I express my heartfelt respect for President Duterte’s leadership on the recent declaration of liberation in Marawi,” Abe reportedly said. “We will provide full support for (the Philippines’) counterterrorism effort and steps to ensure peace and stability.”

“I fully support your fight against terrorism, and will continue to offer you as much assistance as possible,” Abe reportedly added during the meeting, according to Japan’s Kyodo News.

Duterte, on his end, asserted that the Japan-Philippines partnership “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.”

The Philippine Star also reports on what appears to be a separate packaged signed between Duterte and Abe, which includes at least 25 business projects worth $6 billion to the Philippines. The Star lists the types of projects as including “manufacturing, shipbuilding, iron and steel, agribusiness, power, renewable energy, transportation, infrastructure, mineral processing, retailing, information and communication technology, and business process management.”

Duterte spokesman Harry Roque lauded the business deals, stating that Japan’s confidence in the Philippines is “because there is number one, commercial predictability, number two there is peace and order in the Philippines and there is [a] conducive business environment where businesses are safe from unjust taking.”

Duterte arrived early Monday morning local time in Tokyo for a two-day trip largely centered on strengthening bilateral ties. The meeting follows Abe’s visit to Duterte’s home in Davao City, in the nation’s poorer south, in January. As a gesture of goodwill, Duterte offered Abe a traditional home-cooked meal and lent him his “favorite” mosquito net to use while sleeping.

With Duterte repeatedly expressing distrust for America—and particularly for former U.S. President Barack Obama—Abe has taken on a central role in keeping Duterte from executing his threat to pull the Philippines out of its traditional partnerships with America and its allies and closer to China. Duterte’s warnings that he would not hesitate to join a “new world order” with China and Russia raise alarm especially in light of China’s increasingly bold invasions of Philippine territory in the South China Sea.

Duterte’s disposition towards the United States in the Trump era has been harder to interpret. While Duterte has made positive statements about U.S. President Donald Trump in the past, this July he told reporters that he would “never … go to America during my term, or even thereafter,” because “it’s lousy.”

President Trump will meet Duterte in person next month during a broader trip to Asia, which will include stops in China, South Korea, and Japan, among other nations. Duterte has promised to treat Trump “in the most righteous way, welcome him as an important leader.”

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