Philippines and Japan: Duterte seeks a Reduced US Role in Asia with Russia on the Horizon

Noriko Watanabe and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

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The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, embraced the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, in Tokyo after his recent visit to China. Immediately, Duterte expressed his warmth towards Japan while stressing clearly that the United States has “lost it.”

If Japan, therefore, could only embrace a potential new geopolitical landscape, then the political elites in Tokyo could escape the continuing “Washington straightjacket.” This isn’t solely said in a negative meaning but for too long America threatens to embroil Japan into international convulsions that don’t benefit the national interest of this nation. Therefore, with new relations on the horizon with the Russian Federation for both Japan and the Philippines, then new possibilities are in reach.

President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation seeks a new approach with Japan in the area of economics, energy, geopolitics, science and technology, the territorial dispute, and other essential areas. However, political elites in the Russian Federation need a genuine trust to emerge with Japan based on sincerity and mutual respect. Yet, the Russian Federation can’t genuinely trust Japan when Tokyo rubberstamps America’s policy in the Ukraine – despite the Ukraine being of little concern for Japan in the realm of geopolitics.

Duterte, speaking openly and frankly, told Abe that the Philippines would “not abandon Japan in our partnership and security matters, given the common belief that our conflicts and problems with other nations must be resolved peacefully, in accordance with international law.”

A joint statement from Japan and the Philippines stated, The two leaders emphasized the need to ensure maritime safety and security which are vital elements for the peace, stability and continued prosperity of both countries and of the region,”

However, Duterte, just like his visit to China, reiterated in Tokyo that the Philippines seek a reduced role of America in the Philippines – and throughout Asia in the military arena. In Tokyo, at the Philippine Economic Forum, Duterte said, “I want, maybe in the next two years, my country free of the presence of foreign military troops… I want them out and if I have to revise or abrogate agreements, executive agreements, I will.”

Interestingly, just like Abe moving certain goalposts in order to strengthen ties with the Russian Federation despite President Obama’s misgiving, Japan did not distance itself from strengthening ties with the Philippines. On the contrary, it now appears that Japan is gaining from the weakness of America under Obama.

Abe told Duterte that, “I hope to make Japan-Philippine relations even more solid and develop them significantly.”

In the realm of economics, Japanese business leaders welcomed the words of Duterte. He said, “I wish to underscore that stronger economic ties with Japan has been and will continue to be a priority for the Philippines as we celebrate the 60th year of our bilateral relations… We look to Japan as a steady fulcrum in our regional engagements as the Philippines’ first and only bilateral free-trade partner to date.”

It now appears an opportune time for Japan and the Russian Federation to build on the shifting sands that are equally engulfing the Middle East and Asia, under the Obama administration. If Abe can “grab the moment” and the Russian Federation plays the many aces that this nation holds – notably energy, military, powerful relations with China, opening up Central Asia to a much higher degree, and others – then the region can be shaped by a more independent tune.

Of course, Japan will continue to have powerful relations with America for the foreseeable future. However, unlike the past, it is hoped that the new relationship will be based on strength rather than meekness. In other words, Japan can take a more honest broker approach between nations that are at loggerheads with certain aspects of America’s foreign policy. Therefore, it is important for Japan to loosen the “American straightjacket” and turn into a normal economic power that focuses firstly on the national interests of the nation state – rather than the objectives of Washington – while preserving a powerful relationship with America.

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