Asia Pacific / Politics

Duterte kicks off two-day Japan visit after call for talks with North Korea

Kyodo, Bloomberg, Reuters, AFP-JIJI

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte began a two-day visit to Japan on Monday during which time he will hold meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and also meet with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

During a meeting with Abe later Monday, the two leaders are expected to exchange views on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs ahead of Manila’s hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders’ summit and the East Asia Summit next month.

Before leaving for Japan on Sunday, Duterte expressed hope that the United States, Japan and South Korea will seek dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to dissuade him from pursuing his nuclear ambitions.

“Tell him nobody’s threatening him, that there will be no war,” Duterte said, referring to the North Korean leader. “If you can just tone down or stand down, stop the threats, that will be the same for America, just to assure him that nobody is after you.”

Duterte, who has previously described Kim as a “fool” and “son of a bitch” for “playing with dangerous toys,” said world leaders agree the North Korean leader is “a dangerous man” but that somebody has to reach out because “nobody’s talking to him.”

The Philippine leader also said he will deal with U.S. President Donald Trump in the “most righteous way,” adding that he and the American leader “move our mouths in the same cadence.”

On Tuesday, Duterte will meet with the Emperor and Empress, an itinerary item that initially raised concerns among some in the Japanese government due to the Philippine president’s past controversial remarks and behavior, a government source said.

However, Duterte has expressed a strong desire to meet with the Imperial couple for the first time after a plan to do so during his visit to Japan a year ago was canceled due to the death of Prince Mikasa, an uncle of the Emperor, a diplomatic source said.

“I suppose that I have to limit my mouth there, except maybe to bring the warm greetings of the Filipino nation, a grateful nation, to Japan, as a matter of fact,” said the Philippine leader, who is known for inserting expletives into his public remarks.

“I will take this occasion to personally convey gratitude for Japan’s friendship with the Philippines, which has grown stronger under his majesty’s reign,” Duterte said Sunday of the meeting with the Imperial couple.

“Actually, it’s kind of a homage to see the Emperor before he abdicates. One of the reasons really is that, before he steps down, he wanted to see the leaders,” he added.

Duterte’s visit was originally scheduled to start Sunday but shortened by a day to avoid Typhoon Saola. Since winning elections last year, Duterte has sought to boost the Philippines’ ties with Japan, its top foreign aid donor and second largest trading partner in 2016 after China.

That comes as he loosens the country’s 70-year alliance with the United States in favor of closer relations with China and Russia.

On his first visit to Japan in a year, Duterte will also seek assistance in rebuilding Marawi City, which was heavily damaged during fighting between government forces and militants affiliated with Islamic State.

He also said he will discuss ways to boost trade between the two nations.