President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday he was open to having the Philippines hold military exercises with Japan, even as he again threatened to end war games with the US.
"Yes, joint exercises, of course. In general terms, no problem," he told reporters after visiting Japan Maritime United's dry dock in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, where 10 ships for the Philippine Coast Guard are being built.
The Philippines and Japan are already holding bilateral law enforcement and anti-piracy exercises involving their coast guards.
Joint military exercises on the scale being conducted by the United States, though, would require the Philippines and Japan to conclude a Visiting Forces Agreement.
Mr Duterte, who has kept Washington guessing with a recent string of mixed messages, said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not raise the matter during their "almost four hours of talk time".
He also said he had no issue with the Philippines joining Japan on a "cruise" through disputed waters in the South China Sea.
"Yes, within our territorial waters but not the sea itself. But if they want, there's no problem, I do not think China would stop us, just going there and making a cruise," he said. He added: "As a matter of fact, I also told them that they can go near my territorial waters, 'Park there if you want'."
That offer, however, was not extended to the US, the Philippines' treaty ally since 1951.
Mr Duterte yesterday again ruled out joint military exercises with the Americans, as long as he was President. He said on Wednesday that he wanted US troops out of the Philippines within the next two years.
The US currently rotates a small contingent of about 100 special forces combatants to help fight militants in the war-torn southern island group of Mindanao.
Defence sources said Philippine and US military officials would meet late next month.US State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday that Washington was "not going to react and respond" to Mr Duterte's "every bit of rhetoric", especially when there was "no policy traction behind it".
A Philippine military general, who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said on Wednesday: "As of now, we really don't know what military exercises will be stopped because the President has not made any specific instruction."
Vice-Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, head of the Philippine military's Western Command, said yesterday that US and Philippine troops had just concluded a 10-day naval drill off Palawan province, 590km south of Manila.
US and Philippine special forces units were set to hold another drill next month, also in Palawan, according to Philippine Army spokesman Benjamin Hao.
Mr Duterte told reporters yesterday that he explained to Mr Abe his grievances towards the US. "I expressed my disappointment with the Americans. Every time there's an issue, whatever, human rights, it's like we're dogs on a leash, they'll throw the bread beyond the dog's reach. Something like that."
He said Mr Abe did not say anything in response.
Mr Duterte left Japan yesterday without meeting Emperor Akihito, as the courtesy call had to be cancelled because of the death of the emperor's uncle, Prince Mikasa.