Japan has vowed to help the Philippines rebuild its conflict-torn city of Marawi and combat its illegal drugs problem, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met President Rodrigo Duterte for talks in Tokyo.
This is Mr Duterte's second official visit to Tokyo as President, and comes after he recently declared Marawi free from pro-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants after a five-month siege.
"We will provide full support for the Philippines' counter-terrorism effort and take steps to ensure peace and stability," Mr Abe said yesterday, standing beside Mr Duterte and promising to help Manila "build a society that is resilient to radicalism".
Mr Duterte had cancelled a trip to Tokyo in June to deal with the insurgent crisis. This week's visit - said to be hastily arranged - comes before Mr Abe is due to go to Manila next month for Asean-related meetings.
It is understood that Manila had hoped to avoid having Mr Abe make two consecutive trips - he was in Manila this January - without a reciprocal one, while also conveying the Philippines' high regard for Japan as an Asean partner.
Mr Abe sees Mr Duterte as a key diplomatic ally in Japan's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy" to ensure smooth navigation in the region amid concerns over increasing Chinese assertiveness in the seas.
A PROMISE TO BEHAVE
I suppose that I have to limit my mouth there except maybe to bring the warm greetings of the Filipino nation, a grateful nation to Japan.
MR RODRIGO DUTERTE, on meeting Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko today.
While Japan does not have claims in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in almost its entirety, it is embroiled in an island dispute with Beijing in the East China Sea.
"I confirmed with President Duterte that we are both maritime nations sharing basic values and strategic interests," Mr Abe said yesterday, as Tokyo pledged to continue its capacity building aid to the Philippines. These include providing coastal surveillance capabilities, on top of the "swift provision" of equipment like patrol vehicles.
But the two countries' chummy ties belie an unease in Tokyo over Mr Duterte's cordial relations with Beijing, sparking what some see as a race for influence.
Three months after Beijing committed US$24 billion (S$32.7 billion) to Manila, Mr Abe pledged an aid package of one trillion yen (S$12 billion) over five years to Manila in January. Yesterday, Mr Abe and Mr Duterte ironed out details of how the sum will be used, as they vowed to grow their nations' strategic partnership.
Japan will "extend quality infrastructure assistance, utilising (its) funding and technology to the maximum extent", the joint statement said. One area of assistance will be in the construction of a subway to help Manila cope with traffic congestion, and a 180km railway that connects Clark in Pampanga province north of Manila to Los Banos in Laguna province to the south. Other areas of aid include water, energy and technology.
Tokyo also vowed to help Manila cope with its drugs problem by sharing its expertise on rehabilitation as well as job creation in areas where drugs are prevalent.
The leaders also discussed how to deal with North Korea. Before flying to Tokyo for the start of his two-day visit, Mr Duterte said there will be no war if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could be convinced to sit down for talks.
Meanwhile, the acid-tongued Mr Duterte has promised to watch what he says when he meets Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko today.
"I suppose that I have to limit my mouth there except maybe to bring the warm greetings of the Filipino nation, a grateful nation to Japan," he said. Referring to the Emperor's desire to step down, he added: "It's a kind of homage to see the Emperor before he abdicates."