Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is set to hold a summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Oct. 26 during an official visit to Japan.
Duterte stirred controversy when he said in China, which he visited prior to Japan, that his country is separating from the United States. Cabinet ministers who accompanied the president were desperate to calm down the controversy and Duterte also explained that he did not mean that the Philippines would sever its ties with the United States.
The United States dispatched Daniel R. Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, to the Philippines in an attempt to confirm the president's true intentions. China was also apparently bewildered by Duterte's abrupt remarks.
It is hoped that the confusion caused by Duterte's remarks will be resolved through his official visit to Japan, which starts on Oct. 25.
President Duterte has also made some other startling statements. Duterte declared there will be no more joint military exercises with the United States. The Philippine president also said U.S. troops stationed in Mindanao on an anti-terror mission should leave the island. Moreover, Duterte made abusive comments about U.S. President Barack Obama, prompting Obama to cancel a planned meeting with his Philippine counterpart.
Behind the series of controversial statements by Duterte is the United States' criticism of the Philippines' crackdown on illegal drugs under the Duterte administration. It is only natural for Washington to call into question the Philippines' killing of suspects without even holding a trial. However, Duterte appears to be proud that he has successfully restored public order in his country.
The series of comments by Duterte also reveal Filipinos' antipathy against the United States' colonial rule of their country that lasted for nearly half a century from the late 19th century. It is against the backdrop of such feelings that the Philippine Senate refused to ratify a new treaty with the United States in the early 1990s -- shortly after the end of the Cold War -- and forced U.S. troops to pull out of the Philippines.
However, the previous administration led by Benigno Aquino III agreed in 2014 to allow U.S. forces to return its troops to the Philippines. Manila's signing of the agreement was a realistic decision based on the country's recognition that the move is a necessary countermeasure against China's intensifying claims in the South China Sea and that the Philippine's alliance with the United States is the foundation for the country's security.
Japan and the Philippines are partners that have shared the values of freedom and democracy. It would be undesirable if cooperative relations between Japan, the United States and the Philippines were to be shaken by the meandering of the Duterte government's diplomacy.
Japan's cooperation with the Philippines in protecting free navigation in the South China Sea, which is an important sea lane, is directly linked to Japan's national interests. At the Oct. 26 summit meeting, the two leaders should hold constructive discussions that will lead to the strengthening of relations between Japan, the United States and the Philippines.
Prime Minister Abe met with President Duterte in Laos last month. Duterte, who had served as mayor of Davao, the southern Philippines, for more than 20 years, told Abe that Japan has contributed greatly to the development of Davao and reportedly expressed particular appreciation for projects that the government-affiliated Japan International Cooperation Agency has carried out for the city.
The Japanese government has evaluated Duterte as being friendly to Japan. If so, the two countries should pursue bilateral relations in which they can exchange frank opinions with each other.