• Kyodo

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he is open to the idea of holding exercises between the defense forces of his country and Japan.

“Joint exercises? Yes, of course . . . No problem,” Duterte told reporters while visiting the Japan Coast Guard’s 3rd regional headquarters in Yokohama on the third and last day of his state visit here.

The Philippine leader, who has ordered the cessation of joint patrols between Philippine and U.S. forces in the South China Sea and their regular exercises over concern voiced by Washington over his bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign, said the matter was discussed “sort of in general terms” during his visit.

Duterte, however, was noncommittal when asked about Manila forging a visiting forces agreement with Japan, a proposal raised during the time of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino. He said Japan had not brought up the matter during his visit.

Consistent with his earlier pronouncements about pulling American forces out of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, Duterte told Japanese businessmen on Wednesday he wanted no foreign military presence in the Philippines “maybe in two years.”

A day later, he reiterated his intention to review the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement concluded with the United States in 2014, which allows the latter to rotate troops into the Philippines for extended stays and operate facilities on Philippine bases.

“Maybe, I will review the EDCA and ask them (American forces) one of these days to leave the country,” Duterte said.

Meanwhile, asked if Japanese patrol vessels that will be acquired by the Philippines could take part in patrols in the South China Sea, the Philippine leader said, “Yes, within our territorial waters.”

“If you want, we have no problem with that. I do not think China would stop us. Japan would just be going there and making a cruise. As a matter of fact, I also told them, they can go near my territorial waters, and park there if you want,” he said.

Duterte thanked Japan for providing vessels to the Philippines to help it patrol its waters. So far, Tokyo has committed to provide Manila’s coast guard with 10 vessels through a loan, which will be delivered through 2018, and another pair of large-scale patrol vessels.

Japan also expressed its intention to provide high-speed boats and other equipment that will help the Philippines boost its anti-terrorism capabilities.

“That’s what I need. I don’t (need) aircraft carriers that much,” he said of the rubber boats that he saw being used by the Japan Coast Guard during his Yokohama visit. “And also, (I need) frigates for the coast guard.”

During the visit, the two countries also formalized the terms for the lease of five Japanese TC-90 training aircraft to the Philippines.

Duterte said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sought clarification from him about his strong pronouncements against the United States, and only listened.

“I told him of my sentiment, because it’s like we are being treated (by the United States) like dogs, where you throw the bread far away every time you have an issue with me.”

Abe, he said, did not give any response to his explanation. “To his eternal credit, (Prime) Minister Abe is a very courteous man.”

Aside from taking offense with U.S. criticism of his war on drugs, Duterte said the military exercises between Manila and Washington have not been as beneficial for the former as it should be.

Indicating his pivot toward China, he said such joint patrols risk provoking Beijing, which has been aggressive in asserting its claims over the South China Sea.

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