Duterte, the rock-star President

Thursday November 02, 2017 ()

President Duterte's second official visit to Japan can be described with one word: successful. The President met with Japan's industry leaders in Tokyo and witnessed the signing of several business deals.

As an appetizer, he got $6 billion in investments, which will be channeled to shipbuilding, iron and steel, agribusiness, power, renewable energy, transportation, infrastructure and mineral processing. The main course was served by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who reaffirmed Japan's commitment to provide ¥1 trillion in economic assistance to the Philippines over the next five years.

Duterte and Abe
(President Rodrigo Duterte, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint press conference following their meeting at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016)

A joint statement issued by the two leaders in Tokyo said:

"The government of Japan will strongly support the sustainable economic development of the Philippines by extending quality infrastructure assistance, using Japan's funding and technology."

Japan's assistance will include programs to ease traffic congestion in Metro Manila through a subway project, among others. In addition, Japan also pledged to help the Philippines introduce better electric and liquefied natural gas facilities to improve the country's power-supply system.

The President's success in securing economic assistance from Tokyo indicates that Japan is trying to compete with China to forge a better relationship with the Duterte administration. Pundits said Abe has been trying hard to win Duterte over in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea, especially after the latter's visit to China.

On the other hand, it's apparent that China, too, is trying to charm Duterte by pledging to extend economic assistance worth $24 billion. President Xi Jinping made the pledge when he met with Duterte in Beijing in October last year. It's important to note that the economic pledges from Japan and China are voluntary offers from these countries and not requests from the Philippine government.

If there's jockeying between Japan and China for a stronger relationship with the Philippines, it means that the Chief Executive's decision to pursue an independent foreign policy based on Philippine interest is paying great dividends. By putting strong emphasis on the country's ties with Japan and China, Duterte succeeded in creating a situation where the two economic powers are now competing to impress the Philippines with promises of generous economic assistance.

Wataru Kusaka, associate professor of political science at the Graduate School of International Development at Nagoya University, said: "Duterte's intention looks very clear. He is trying to maximize what he can win from Japan and China. So it's important for Tokyo to have the Filipino people feel that Japan is moving fast, in particular in assisting social infrastructure projects. That's why infrastructure projects come at the top of the list of economic cooperation items in a summary of a joint statement released by the Japanese government."

As the President continues to forge stronger ties with Japan and China, and despite his "separation" from the United States during a state visit to China, it's worth mentioning that Duterte has yet to cut the country's military, economic, and cultural ties with the US. The President has the numbers in Congress to undo all military and other agreements that perpetuate the unequal relationship between the US and the Philippines if he so desires. However, aside from honoring these agreements, Duterte seems ready to improve his relationship with President Donald J. Trump.

There's no denying that Duterte has succeeded in recalibrating the country's foreign policy by strengthening ties with China and Japan and improving relations with non-traditional partners, including Russia and India. For his success in cultivating closer ties with different global powers, Duterte, in the process, has become a rock-star president recognized by other world leaders.

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