TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will meet Wednesday in Tokyo, with all eyes on whether Duterte will backtrack on recent comments hostile to the United States as he seeks cooperation with Japan.
According to Japanese government sources, Abe plans to call for Duterte to repair U.S.-Philippine ties strained by his inflammatory remarks, which include an announcement in Beijing last Thursday of Manila's military and economic "separation" from Washington.
Abe and Duterte, on his first visit to Japan since taking office in June, are also expected to exchange opinions on maritime security, with Tokyo likely seeking reassurance that Duterte's pivot toward China will not compromise cooperation in maintaining the rule of law in the South China Sea.
According to the Philippine Foreign Ministry, Abe and Duterte are planning to release a joint statement at their meeting.
Ahead of his talks with Abe, Duterte met members of a Japan-Philippines parliamentarians' friendship league Wednesday.
An attendee told reporters after the meeting that Duterte had said a clash could occur between the United States and China if China grows larger.
Duterte told a press conference after returning from China that enhancing economic cooperation is the main goal of his trip to Japan, while Japan's top government spokesman said Wednesday he hopes the visit will strengthen the strategic partnership between Japan and the Philippines.
"The (Japanese) government wants to continue to proactively support the Philippines' development, including in areas important to the Duterte administration such as infrastructure building, maritime security and assistance to Mindanao," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.
According to bilateral diplomatic sources, Abe is expected to offer 5 billion yen ($48.2 million) in yen loans for agricultural development in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, where Duterte served as the longtime mayor of the city of Davao.
Japan is also tipped to announce further cooperation in infrastructure building and the provision of patrol boats for coast guard activities in the Philippines, the sources said.
But these offerings are dwarfed by China's pledge of roughly $13.5 billion (1.4 trillion yen) in deals with the Philippines during Duterte's four-day trip to the country last week.
During that visit, Duterte suggested the Philippines would be better off aligning itself with China than the United States, with which the Philippines has a mutual defense treaty.
The Philippines and China agreed in a joint statement issued following Duterte's talks with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to exercise self-restraint in the South China Sea and hold regular bilateral dialogue on maritime issues.
Abe is expected to convey to Duterte Japan's position on peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. According to Japanese government sources, he will argue that Washington's deterrent capability is essential in maintaining the rule of law in the region.
Abe is also likely to raise an international arbitration tribunal's ruling in July that found no legal basis for Beijing's sweeping claims to historical rights in the South China Sea. The Philippines brought the case before Duterte took office.
According to a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official, Abe will communicate Japan's stance that the countries involved in the case must comply with the ruling, an apparent reference to China.
While Japan does not directly face the South China Sea, the issue of maritime sovereignty is pertinent to its concerns over Beijing's territorial claims to the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Duterte, who arrived in Tokyo Tuesday, is scheduled to meet Emperor Akihito on Thursday before concluding his three-day trip.