Abe, Duterte affirm importance of US commitment to Asia-Pacific

Junko Horiuchi, Kyodo News

Posted at Jan 13 2017 06:19 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte walks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) and protocol officer Marciano Paynor after a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace grounds in Manila, Philippines January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

DAVAO CITY - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed Friday on the importance of US contribution to peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump as US president amid uncertainty about his foreign policy.

Meeting for the second day in Duterte's hometown of Davao in the southern Philippines, the two leaders had talks following a breakfast together and other events in Abe's diplomatic gesture aimed at building personal ties. They also touched on the issue of China's military buildup in the South China Sea, confirming a policy to resolve disputes under the rule of law, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

The Philippines has conflicting claims with China in the disputed waters along with four other governments.

Duterte told Abe he is ready to have direct talks with China concerning the South China Sea, according to the ministry. Duterte has previously suggested setting aside territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, opting to boost economic cooperation with the world's second-largest economy.

Abe hopes the Philippines and China act based on the ruling last July of the UN-backed tribunal in The Hague which concluded that China's claim over almost the entire South China Sea has no legal basis. China has not accepted the decision over the case brought by Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino.

With the Philippines assuming the chairmanship of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations for this year, Abe said in the talks with Duterte that he hopes to coordinate with Manila on stressing the principle of the rule of law at a series of ASEAN-related meetings, which culminates with a summit also involving leaders from the United States, Japan and China, the ministry said.

Abe and Duterte shared the view that continued US commitment to the Asia-Pacific region is needed. Duterte reacted angrily last year when the administration of US President Barack Obama aired concerns about extrajudicial killings in Duterte's anti-drug campaign.

Trump, who has suggested a shift to a protectionist trade policy and a more muscular foreign policy, will take office as US president on Jan. 20.

Duterte vowed to continue his country's cooperation with the United States under a bilateral alliance, according to the ministry.

Earlier Friday, the leaders held informal talks over breakfast at Duterte's private residence in Davao on the island of Mindanao, where the Philippine president has spent around half of each week even after taking office last June.

It is the first visit by a sitting foreign leader to Davao, where Duterte served as mayor for around 22 years and enjoys a more than 90-percent approval rating, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

On Thursday in Manila, the leaders agreed on economic and security cooperation amid China's growing assertiveness in the region. Abe also pledged a public-private package of 1 trillion yen ($8.7 billion) to spur infrastructure development in the fast-growing Southeast Asian country, including for promoting agricultural business in Mindanao.

Davao is home to many Filipinos of Japanese descent and is a recipient of Japanese-funded projects for development, according to Japanese officials. Japan has a consular office there.

China, meanwhile, is also seeking to increase its presence in the area, saying last October it will open a diplomatic mission in the city.

The Philippines is Abe's first stop on his six-day overseas trip since Thursday. He will also travel to Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Also Friday, the two leaders attended a ceremony where Abe named a critically endangered Philippines eagle "Sakura," which means cherry blossom in Japanese, according to the ministry.

The bird, also known as the monkey-eating eagle and endemic to the Philippines, is the national bird of the Philippines.