PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is prepared to discuss the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China if it comes up during his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week.
In a news conference in Davao City Friday night after his arrival from a state visit to China, the President said that while he expected his talk with Abe to focus on economic issues, he could discuss the dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) if the Japanese leader raises it.
“My talks with the Japanese government particularly the premier would really be solely on … most of it actually is economic operation and of course shared interest,” Duterte told reporters. “The most important thing there is the shared interest. The shared interest is really about the South China Sea.”
“I have to wait until I meet Minister Abe of what we would really be talking about. But the South China Sea has been the contention with several other countries vis-a-vis China,” he added.
Japan also has conflicting claims with China over East China Sea.
Duterte said he would tell Abe that, while he was not willing to surrender any territory, both the Philippines and China had agreed that neither country wanted some “violent incident” to break out at the disputed territories.
President Duterte will be on an official visit to Japan on October 25-27.
Abe, in a congratulatory letter after the May elections, invited Duterte to visit Japan, which the latter accepted during a bilateral meeting at the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Laos last month.
Duterte plans to call on Emperor Akihito and speak before Japanese business leaders, as well as to observe the process of Japanese shipbuilding.
He will also meet members of the 400,000-strong Filipino community in Japan.
Earlier, the Japanese embassy said President Duterte’s foreign policy would be one of the topics to be discussed with Abe.
“If, you know, President Duterte has a new idea or a new foreign policy, I think Prime Minister Abe would like to listen to President Duterte’s explanation and discuss this with him,” Japan’s deputy chief of mission in Manila Atsushi Ueno said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“We will discuss and we would like to listen to what President Duterte explains to our leaders about foreign policy of his administration,” he added.
Ueno said Abe and Duterte were also expected to discuss “regional issues.”
Duterte had repeatedly said that he would pursue an independent foreign policy, and recently announced that he was breaking the Philippines’ military and economic ties with the US.
Ueno said Duterte’s state visit coincides with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Japan.
“We would like to strengthen bilateral cooperation and our strategic partnership as well as expect to reaffirm the cooperation on regional and international issues,” the Japanese official said.
Ueno said Japan and the Philippines continue to maintain “very good” bilateral relations despite the change in the administration.
“As far as our bilateral relations is concerned, despite the change of the presidency in this country, we can maintain very good relations and I’m sure that we can continue to maintain our good relations with President Duterte and his administration as well,” he said.
Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag said Duterte’s visit would build upon the administration’s policy in “enhancing relations with our neighbors in the region.”
Japan is a top trading and official development assistance partner of the Philippines.
“The official visit is seen to further bolster the strong strategic partnership between the Philippines and Japan,” Banaag said.