MANILA/DAVAO -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged the importance of his country's alliance with the U.S. in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Friday, delighting his guest, who sees American involvement in Asia as essential for countering the rise of China.
The two leaders held talks for a second day in Duterte's hometown, the city of Davao on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. During the 30-minute meeting in a hotel, the Phiippine president declared his intention to maintain cooperation with the U.S., Japanese government sources said. Duterte also expressed hopes of peacefully resolving territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, based on international law, and of holding direct talks with China on its attempts to create military outposts in the disputed waters.
Since coming to power in June, Duterte has repeatedly voiced his intention to distance his country from the U.S. The relationship between the two longtime allies has deteriorated after U.S. President Barack Obama raised human-rights issues over Duterte's strong-arm campaign against drugs.
Abe, who sees cooperation with the U.S. and the Philippines as key to addressing Beijing's overreaching territorial claims in the South China Sea, attempted to play the role of peacemaker between Manila and Washington in a meeting with Duterte in Japan in October. He continued to assume that role during his meetings on Thursday and Friday, offering Japan's support for the Philippines' anti-drug efforts without raising human-rights concerns.
Duterte invited Abe and his wife, Akie, to his residence in Davao for breakfast before holding the meeting in the hotel Friday. He even showed his bedroom to the Japanese prime minister and took a photo there in a show of rapport between the two leaders.
But all of this does not mean the Philippine president has abandoned his plans to improve his country's relationship with China. He hopes China will lend a hand to the Philippines in infrastructure development and other areas, Duterte said in a local TV interview late last year. He is clearly looking to solicit aid from both Japan and China by refraining from making the territorial disputes a central issue and instead stressing the economic benefits of cooperation.