Rodrigo Duterte travels to one of the U.S.’s strongest allies in Asia on Tuesday in the Philippine president’s first trip since announcing a foreign-policy pivot to China in Beijing last week.
The visit to Japan comes days after Duterte announced a “separation” from the U.S. and took home $24 billion in investment pledges from the Chinese capital. While the outspoken leader later clarified his comments to say he wasn’t severing ties altogether, the remarks caused bafflement in Washington and sparked concern from U.S. allies in the region.
Even as Duterte rejects joint military exercises with the U.S. in the South China Sea for fear of offending China, Japan’s coastguard aid could prove essential in the longer term, said Yuki Tatsumi, senior associate of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.
“While some will undoubtedly point to Japan’s gift of patrol vessels and planned loan of aircraft as mistakes, they offer the capability the Philippines needs,” if tensions with China rise again, Tatsumi said. “Japan needs to stay as the Philippines’ ‘friend in need’ especially now that it does look like US-Filipino relations will be strained, at least at the leadership level.”
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