TOKYO (AP) — The leaders of Japan and the Philippines agreed to cooperate in promoting regional peace and stability and acknowledged the importance of their alliances with the U.S., after the tough-talking Rodrigo Duterte said he wants his country to be free of visiting American troops possibly within two years.
In a news conference, Duterte, after his first round of talks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, said he expected Japan to continue being an important part of maritime security in the region, including the South China Sea, where Manila and Beijing have overlapping claims.
In a statement, the two sides acknowledged the importance of "their network of friendship and alliances," particularly one between them. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda told reporters that their alliances with the U.S. were recognized, though not in writing.
Duterete, in his second round of talks only among close aides, reassured Abe that he has no intention to sever diplomatic ties with the U.S., Hagiuda said.
Since Duterte took office in June, Manila's relationship with Washington has quickly become strained.
Japan is a staunch U.S. ally and hosts 50,000 American troops, while Duterte has repeatedly spoken of distancing his country from Washington, often in crude terms.
The presence of U.S. troops in five Philippine military camps was established under a security deal signed under Duterte's predecessor as a counter to China's growing military assertiveness in the region.
Earlier Wednesday, Duterte said that he wants his country to be free of foreign troops, possibly within two years. "I want them out," he said.
"I want to be friends to China," he told an audience of businesspeople in Tokyo. "I do not need the arms. I do not want missiles established in my country. I do not need to have the airports to host the bombers."
As president, Duterte has reached out to Beijing while criticizing U.S. foreign policy. His approach has caused consternation in both the U.S. and Japan.
Still, Abe welcomed Duterte's recent efforts to improve ties with China.
"The South China Sea issue is directly linked to the region's peace and stability and a matter of interest for the entire international society," he said. "In that regard, Japan welcomes the effort of President Duterte visiting China and endeavoring to improve the Philippine-China relations."
Duterte has announced canceling planned joint military exercises with the United States, and preparatory meetings for next year's joint combat exercises between American and Filipino forces in the Philippines have been shrouded in uncertainty.
Explaining his policy, Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay, also in Tokyo, said Duterte respects all bilateral security agreements with the U.S. and that he has no intention to renege or breach them, but the exercises are not helpful in fostering Manila's friendly relations with Beijing.
"It is in this context that we will not be undertaking (them) during (Duterte's) administration especially so that we are trying to resolve this disputes with China in a peaceful manner," Yasay told a separate news conference.
Officials declined to provide details of their second round of talks, in which Abe was expected to ask Duterte specifically about his foreign policy. Their joint statement focused largely on Japan's contribution to Philippine maritime security and other projects totaling a 21 billion yen ($210 million) loan.
Duterte is on a three-day visit to Japan. After two rounds of talks with Abe, he is attending a banquet hosted by the Japanese leader. On Thursday, he is set to meet Emperor Akihito.
Associated Press videojournalist Emily Wang in Tokyo and writer Jim Gomez in Manila, the Philippines, contributed to this report.