Abe arrives in Manila as part of four-nation trip


By Teresa Cerojano, AP

MANILA — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived Thursday for a two-day visit to Manila as the Philippines has boosted ties with China while taking a hostile stance toward Tokyo’s main ally the United States.

The Philippines is Abe’s first stop in a four-nation swing as the Japanese leader presses efforts to boost his country’s trade and security engagements amid China’s rise to Asian dominance. He will later travel to Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Accompanied by his wife and a business delegation, Abe is the first head of state to visit since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June. It’s an important affirmation of Duterte’s leadership at a time he faces domestic and international criticism for a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs that has claimed more than 6,000 lives.

“Japan is one of our strongest friends and ally and partner in this part of the world and we value this friendship,” Duterte’s foreign secretary, Perfecto Yasay Jr. said ahead of Abe’s visit.

The two sides plan to sign agreements to bolster cooperation in agriculture, infrastructure and security.

After Manila, Abe will travel to southern Davao city, Duterte’s hometown where Yasay said the president may host breakfast for the Japanese premier at his home.

Japan may also provide help in the construction of rehabilitation centers for drug addicts, Yasay said.

China has backed Duterte’s bloody crackdown on drug users and pushers, and a Chinese real estate magnate financed the construction of the biggest drug rehab center in the country, drawing praises from the president.

While Duterte has cozied up to China and Russia, he has railed at President Barack Obama’s outgoing administration for raising alarm over human rights concerns. The brash-talking Duterte has repeatedly vowed to scale back joint military exercises and other defense engagements with the U.S., his country’s treaty ally, but has walked back on many of his threats.

About two dozen activists led by four women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops in World War II protested outside the Japanese Embassy, calling for justice for their sufferings in a call that has largely been muted by the blossoming relations of the Asian neighbors.