TOKYO (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte left Japan on Thursday without meeting Emperor Akihito as their scheduled meeting had to be canceled because of the death of the emperor’s uncle.
Before ending his three-day visit, Duterte proposed joint military exercises with Japan, while reiterating that he will not conduct them with Americans in his presidency.
Duterte made the proposal during his visit to a coast guard unit to observe an exercise from one of the patrol vessels Japan pledged to provide the Philippines to upgrade Manila’s maritime security capabilities amid South China Sea disputes with Beijing.
The president told reporters in an unscheduled interview that he discussed a possibility of the joint exercise “in general terms” when he held talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, according to a statement released by the Philippine presidential palace. Duterte also reminded reporters that allowing American military to stay in his country would be “difficult” and that he planned to review the military cooperation agreement and ask them “one of these days” to leave the country.
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He did not elaborate on his comment on joint exercises with Japan, which could have mixed implications because of Japan also has tensions with China over East China Sea islands, history and other issues.
Duterte has criticized Washington’s foreign policy while reaching out to Beijing. His criticism to U.S. and its military presence in the Philippines have raised concerns in Washington and Tokyo, a top American ally.
He said Wednesday he wants foreign troops out of his country possibly within the next two years, referring to visiting U.S. troops. The Philippines hosts U.S. troops in five military camps under a security deal signed by Duterte’s predecessor as a counter to China’s growing military assertiveness in the region.
But in Manila, Philippine officials revealed Thursday that despite Duterte’s opposition to further exercises with the U.S., the two countries held navy exercise Oct. 17-26 on mines and humanitarian underwater search missions.
Philippine navy Vice Adm. Ronald Joseph Mercado, commander of the military’s Western Command, said the maneuvers including emergency diving procedures and operating sonar equipment were held in the western Philippine province of Palawan facing the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte said Abe asked him to explain his U.S. policy but did not offer to mediate the chilling relations between the U.S. and the Philippines.
Because of Duterte’s informal style, Japanese officials had been worried if he may chew gum in front of the emperor. But during his visit in Japan, he was not seen doing that during his talks with Abe and other officials.
Prince Mikasa, the younger brother of former Emperor Hirohito, died Thursday at the age of 100.
“I’d like to express my deepest condolence,” Duterte said. He told reporters that his protocol officer advised him not to proceed with the call on the emperor “because they are in mourning and I respect that because I would ask for the same, maybe request, if I were in his shoes.”
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, the Philippines, contributed to this report.
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