Japanese diplomat expresses confidence in Duterte
TOKYO — Presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte may have rattled some international nerves with his provocative foreign policy declarations, but at least one top diplomat here thinks Filipinos ought to believe in him more.
“We need to have faith in Mr. Duterte,” said Masato Otaka, deputy press secretary and deputy director general for press and public diplomacy of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).
Otaka said the firebrand Davao City mayor, who in the course of his campaign had threatened to cut ties with the United States and Australia and to ride a jet ski and plant a Philippine flag in the disputed Spratly islands, would eventually learn the careful and measured language of diplomacy.
“He will do his best in learning each of the issues and learning what the real problems are for the Philippines,” the Japanese diplomat told the Inquirer over dinner with foreign journalists on Monday.
Japan’s foreign ministry is hosting the journalists from Asia, Africa and the Middle East to cover the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Mie Prefecture on May 26-27, as well as side events.
Otaka, who sounded mystified when asked about Duterte’s recent comments, noted that it was the Filipino people who decided to elect him President.
“I think the people of the Philippines chose a new leader. That was their choice. We’re always confident the Filipino people know who’s the right leader for them,” he said.
Foreign ambassadors, including Japanese Ambassador Kazuhide Ishikawa, have been knocking on Duterte’s door to be in his good graces as he has emerged as the apparent winner in the May 9 presidential elections.
Ishikawa was the first envoy to pay a courtesy call on Duterte on May 16.
READ: Duterte meets with ambassadors from Japan, China, Israel
The two engaged in a “very cordial and constructive conversation,” according to another MOFA official privy to the discussions but who asked not to be identified as he could not speak for his agency.
“Through Ambassador Ishikawa we relayed our congratulations. [The talk centered on how] Japan will seek the enhancement of our relationship,” the official said.
He said the fact that Duterte’s home city had been a beneficiary of Japan’s official development assistance package boded well for the two countries’ relationship. Many Japanese migrants have also contributed to Davao’s economy, prompting its mayor to say recently that Filipinos should learn from the Japanese.
The MOFA official said the Japanese ambassador had sought out Duterte to express his hopes for the continuation of Japan’s flourishing ties with the Philippines. “We really want to continue what has been happening under the Aquino administration,” he said.
Asked to comment on Duterte’s outrageous remarks about some countries, the official deeply familiar with Japan-Philippines’ bilateral relations said he would not dare to try to predict or guess what the incoming President’s foreign policy would look like once the latter assumed office.
Jin Wakabayashi, director of the Southeast Asia and Pacific department of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), was similarly guarded about what he thought of the impact of a Duterte presidency.
“We are closely watching the results and the news… We are very much interested in how the Philippines and Japan’s relationship will become under the new presidency. And so, I think I can just say we are closely watching,” he said.
In April, Duterte responded to the statements of the American and Australian ambassadors reacting negatively towards a previous joke he had made about a victim of rape by telling them to “shut up” and threatening to sever ties with their countries. He later backed down, arguing the media took his remarks out of context.
READ: Duterte dares US, Australia to cut ties
During the April 25 debate, Duterte boasted he was prepared to sacrifice his life by riding a jet ski to the first disputed island in the South China Sea.
He has made conflicting comments about where he plans to take the Philippines’ testy relationship with China, at first suggesting he favors a more direct engagement with the giant neighbor, but later saying he agrees to a multilateral solution — something China opposes.
The Philippines, which has filed suit in a United Nations arbitration court, and China are embroiled in an ownership dispute over the Spratly islands in the South China Sea, a reputedly resource-rich chain of isles and atolls claimed by four other regional neighbors.
The UN Permanent Court of Arbitration based in the Hague has assumed jurisdiction over the Philippine case and is expected to make a ruling within the year even though China has refused to participate in the proceedings.
Japan has supported the Philippines’ filing of the case, which argues the disputed islands are well within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.
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