With President Obama canceling a meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (understandably: Duterte called Obama a “son of a bitch”), Manila came away from the ASEAN meeting in Laos looking somewhat diminished. But, in the long term, this week may well go down as a successful one in Philippines geopolitical history. Reuters:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday agreed to provide two large-sized patrol ships and lend up to five used surveillance aircraft to the Philippines, a Japanese government spokesman said, with both countries locked in territorial disputes with China.
Abe and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed in Vientiane to strengthen cooperation to ensure a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea dispute, Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda said.
The U.S., of course, isn’t backing away from Manila either. Lately, it’s looked like Duterte is planning to take a hard line with China, and that should mean American regional strategy is safe. But questions linger as to whether the unpredictable Duterte will allow the U.S. to go ahead with its plans to base more Pacific operations in the Philippines.
Japan has been sending its own ships down to the Philippines lately and has been working to beef up relations with Southeast Asia. Building better relations with the Philippines—which has an international court ruling bolstering its criticisms of China—is a priority for Japanese foreign policy.
It’s still difficult to read Duterte (perhaps even Duterte doesn’t know what Duterte will do), but the fact that he’s cozying up to Japan suggests Beijing’s efforts to woo Manila aren’t having much success.