Foreign troops out in 2 years: Duterte

Mr Duterte with Mr Abe during a welcome ceremony at the latter's official residence in Tokyo yesterday. He is on a three-day introductory visit to Japan to mark 60 years of bilateral relations.
Mr Duterte with Mr Abe during a welcome ceremony at the latter's official residence in Tokyo yesterday. He is on a three-day introductory visit to Japan to mark 60 years of bilateral relations.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

He also says the Philippines will stand on Japan's side and work together towards a peaceful solution in S. China Sea

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wants all foreign troops out of his country within two years, the first time he has indicated a timeline for a pullout.

Speaking at an economic forum in Tokyo yesterday, he said: "I want, maybe in the next two years, my country freed of the presence of foreign military troops. I want them out and if I have to revise or abrogate agreements, executive agreements, I will."

The world will have to "contend with the new dynamics of my country", Mr Duterte told about 1,000 businessmen from Japan and the Philippines at the forum.

The firebrand leader is on a three-day introductory visit to Japan - which he described yesterday as a "special friend who is closer than a brother" - to mark 60 years of bilateral relations.

He later told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the start of a bilateral summit meeting that the Philippines will stand on Japan's side and work together with Japan towards achieving a peaceful solution in the South China Sea through the rule of law.

At the meeting, it was agreed that Japan will provide two large patrol vessels to enhance Manila's maritime patrol capabilities - on top of another 10 previously agreed ships.

"You can rest assured, and I give you my word, that we would stand by you when the time comes," he said, assuring Mr Abe that the Philippines was not entering a military alliance with China.

Mr Abe, meanwhile, said last night that he welcomes Mr Duterte's efforts to improve ties with Beijing, and that the leaders agreed on the importance of settling maritime disputes peacefully. They also stressed the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as anti-piracy efforts and cooperation.

Both leaders held a rare, smaller- scale tete-a-tete, lasting 70 minutes, after the bilateral summit. They discussed their countries' respective alliances with the United States, the South China Sea territorial dispute, and the Philippines' anti-narcotics campaign, Foreign Ministry official Yasuhisa Kawamura said.

Japan has been critical of China's rejection of an international arbitration court ruling in July over the South China Sea that emphatically favoured the Philippines.

Japan and China have a separate dispute in the East China Sea.

Mr Duterte, on a visit to China last week, announced a "separation" from the US, his country's long- time ally, though he later said he did not mean a total severance of ties. Both Japan and the Philippines are American allies.

Defending the need for a war on drugs, he told the forum about the gravity of his country's drugs problem, with four million addicts.

He has chafed at criticism from the US and the United Nations of his anti-drugs war, which has left more than 3,500 people dead from extrajudicial killings by vigilantes and police.

"I would never allow our dignity and honour to be just like a doormat before the international public," he said, drawing a standing ovation from part of the crowd.

On the possibility of the US withdrawing aid, he said: "It's like saying (you're) a dog on a leash and if you do not stop biting the criminals, we will not throw the bread under your mouth. We will throw it further so that you'll have to struggle to get it. That is what America wants me to be. A dog barking for the crumbs of their favour."

He added: "We will survive without the assistance of America."

Referring to his visit to China, he said the focus was purely economic - with no talks about arms or alliances. "Historically, we have only a short window in our dealings with China. With my visit, we hope the window would come to a better light and bigger than usual so that we can trade freely."

He also expressed appreciation to Japan - the Philippines' top trading partner and foreign investor - which yesterday extended five billion Japanese yen (S$66.7 million) in loans for agriculture development.

Mr Abe has accepted an invitation from Mr Duterte to visit the Philippines "at a convenient time".

Mr Duterte wraps up his visit today with a call on Emperor Akihito.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'Foreign troops out in 2 years: Duterte'. Print Edition | Subscribe