FILE – In this Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016 file photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, right, is shown the way by Chinese President Xi Jinping before a signing ceremony in Beijing, China. Japanese officials are wary ahead of the arrival of outspoken Duterte. Their concern is not only about his foreign policy toward the U.S., but also about his informal style. They are paranoid about him chewing gum in front of the Emperor. Duterte arrives in Tokyo later Tuesday for a three-day visit, his first as Philippine leader. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, Pool, File)
TOKYO (AP) — Japanese officials are wary ahead of the arrival of outspoken Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Their concern is not only about his foreign policy toward the U.S., but also about his informal style. They are paranoid about him chewing gum in front of the emperor.
Duterte arrives in Tokyo later Tuesday for a three-day visit, his first as Philippine leader and as his recent remarks on foreign policy and freewheeling style have captured international attention.
For diplomats and political leaders, the main issue is Duterte’s foreign policy toward Washington and how Japan can help mend those ties.
Tokyo is a major ally of the United States, and has watched as Duterte increasingly voiced attacks on the U.S. and said he would scale back America’s military engagement with his country. And has he worried Japan and the United States by reaching out strongly to China.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged Duterte’s remarks have triggered concerns, and told reporters he planned to ask what his real intentions were when the two have dinner later Tuesday. He said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will do the same on Wednesday.
“I think it would be important that we fully communicate through these occasions and directly hear opinions from President Duterte himself,” Kishida said.
But in a country where formality and politeness are highly valued, others are worried about the rough side of Duterte’s manners. They are particularly concerned about his meeting with Emperor Akihito on Friday.
Japanese TV shows have repeatedly showed Duterte apparently chewing gum — at meetings, shaking hands and at other public occasions. In footage of a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Duterte wore a business suit instead of a formal Philippine “Barong” shirt. He walked in with his hands in his pockets and chewed gum during the hand shake and a signing ceremony.
Duterte doesn’t usually button up the top of his shirt, often wears slacks or jeans and has been seen without socks.
“When (Duterte) will make a courtesy visit to the Emperor, his behavior during the event could have a major impact. I trust he understands the consequences and he would not do such a thing (as chewing gum), but I do hope the Philippine side to remind him of that particular point,” Itsunori Onodera, a senior lawmaker in the conservative ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told a Sunday talk show on Fuji TV.
In Japan, where the Emperor was considered a living god until the end of World War II, people are expected to be extra polite in front of him and his family.
“It’s unbelievable. I have never seen anything like that!” said Kunihiko Miyake, a former diplomat and political analyst. “How could he dare to behave in ways that could cause his host to lose face.” Miyake, however, said Duterte might have done so intentionally perhaps because he was unhappy about compromising on the South China Sea issue.
While serving as a mediator between the two allies, Japan’s main contribution to Manila is likely to be two large Coast Guard patrol boats — in addition to an earlier pledge of 10 smaller ones — and TC-90 military training aircraft to help boost the Philippine’s maritime security in the South China Sea.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reiterated Japan’s policy to further develop its strategic partnership with Manila, with an aim for a peaceful settlement of the dispute over the South China Sea, which is claimed in whole or part by China, the Philippines and other countries around the sea.
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