MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte's Japan visit is a "counterpoint" to criticisms that the so-called independent foreign policy would bring Manila into a pro-China bloc at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an analyst said.
According to Malcolm Cook of the Lowy Institute, Duterte's declaration of a "golden age of strategic partnership" and the ¥1 trillion to back this up could enable the Philippine leader to claim "with some veracity" that he is improving ties with Tokyo and Beijing at a time of the two nations' intense rivalry and distrust.
Duterte's visit also reaffirmed with much detail Japan's commitment to provide aid of up to ¥1 trillion in the next five years, with a focus on infrastructure development and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City, Cook said. *
|Philippine President Duterte and Japan's Prime Minister Abe (photo credit Philstar)|
Japan is also the major financier of the Philippines' largest planned infrastructure project, the Mega Manila subway line, and is likely to remain Manila's largest source of foreign infrastructure financing, the analyst said.
"This declaration, and the ¥1 trillion backing it up, provides a strong counterpoint to criticism that President Duterte’s anti-Western tirades and desire for an 'independent foreign policy' will lead the Philippines to become 'maritime Southeast Asia’s Cambodia,'" Cook wrote, referring to Phnom Penh's reliable pro-China stance at the ASEAN.
The strengthening of ties with Japan will also provide a way for Southeast Asian nations such as the Philippines to avoid becoming too beholden to China, Cook said.
Since Duterte became president in June last year, the Philippines has started to cozy up to non-traditional allies such as Russia and China while relations with the US, a treaty ally, have soured.
Arms have been donated by both Moscow and Beijing while China has also pledged to help the Philippines in some of its projects under its ambitious infrastructure program.
China has also sent aid and construction equipment to the Philippines to help in the rehabilitation of Marawi City, which was recently liberated following five months of clashes between security forces and Islamist militants that left the city center in ruins. *
This warming of ties contrasted with the intense relationship of Duterte with Washington, with the Philippine leader calling former US President Barack Obama a "son of a bitch" in 2016 following his criticisms of the administration's war on drugs.
Manila and Washington have started to repair ties under US President Donald Trump.
Duterte's visit to Japan also offered Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an opportunity to showcase the "clear symbol" of importance of Tokyo for Manila and other Southeast Asian capitals.
According to Cook, this will counter fears that China has been able to sideline Japan in regional forums and issue.
"For Abe, the timing of the visit was a boost," Cook said. "This helps counter Japan’s deep fears of being sidelined by China, fears aggravated regionally by the fanfare around China’s Belt and Road Initiative and in the Philippines by Duterte’s blatant courting of Beijing."
Abe was also able to claim Philippine support for Japan's concept of a "free and open Indo-Pacific," a concept that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promoted in his keynote speech before embarking on a trip to Asia for the APEC summit in Vietnam and the East Asia Summit in Manila.
"Japan does not want to be pushed to the periphery by China in Southeast Asia, and Southeast Asian states do not want to become too beholden to China. These defensive interests have a lot of overlap," Cook said. *
"Japan-Philippine relations under the Duterte Administration, so far, are testament to this meeting of fears," he concluded.
Source: Philstar : Analyst: Strong ties with Japan can temper China's influence on Phl Nov.1, 2017