Duterte to tackle strategic ties and possibly South China Sea dispute in Japan trip

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A few days after flying in from trips to Brunei and China, President Rodrigo Duterte will be in the air again on Tuesday to head to Japan.

In a press statement, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said Duterte will be in Japan from Oct. 25 to 27 to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and several business leaders not only to bolster diplomatic and economic ties, but also to possibly tackle issues in the South China Sea.

Duterte will also make a State Call to Emperor Akihito — who visited the Philippines with his wife, Empress Michiko, early this year — as well as meet the nearly 400,000 members of the Filipino community in Japan.

South China Sea talks could become multilateral

While the Philippines claims exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea, Japan is contesting territorial claims against China in the East China sea islands.

Read: PH wins maritime arbitration case vs. China

Duterte's visit comes after he had announced to Chinese leaders this week of his intention to "separate" from the United States, a close ally of Japan, and to "align" himself with China and Russia.

Duterte later clarified that the separation would not mean "severing" ties with the U.S., but that he wants to end a Philippine foreign policy closely associated with the U.S.

Read: Duterte clarifies statement on U.S.: It's a separation of foreign policy, not severance of ties

"My talks with the Japanese government, particularly the Premier, would really be on economic operation and, of course, shared interest," he said in an early morning Saturday press conference in Davao City. "Now the most important thing there is the shared interest about the South China Sea. I told everybody and I told China, I cannot surrender anything there."

Related: Duterte on Filipinos' fishing rights in Scarborough Shoal: 'I leave it to the Chinese authorities'

The President also said his bilateral talks with China on the sea dispute could develop to include more parties.

"Since I have to talk to Minister Abe, I cannot make any projections of what will happen," he said. "But to the Chinese government, I said we will find the day to talk about only the issue of the South China Sea. It could be bilateral, it depends on the development, it could be multilateral and that would include Japan. Those are what I suggested, in the future."

Duterte is also planning to visit the Japan Marine United Corporation, which is making vessels for the Philippine Coast Guard.

"Actually, we have delivered the first one and had a turnover ceremony very recently," said Japanese Embassy deputy chief of mission and Minister for Political Affairs Atsushi Ueno in a Friday press conference in Malacañang. "But we are going to deliver the remaining nine vessels. So President Duterte will actually see the company how the Coast Guard vessel is built."

Talks on 'comfort women' not yet final

Meanwhile, PCO Assistant Secretary Marie Banaag said she isn't sure if Duterte will bring up the issue of "comfort women" in his Japan visit.

Comfort women pertain to girls who were forced to become sex slaves for Japanese soldiers when the Philippines was under Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945.

In 2015, Abe issued an apology to South Korean comfort women and pledged 1 billion yen (around ₱465 million) in compensation for them. Filipino comfort women have been calling on the Japanese government to apologize, recognize and compensate them, as well.