The other dragon
This has to be a test of stamina. After a fruitful visit to Beijing last week, President Duterte is now in Tokyo to meet with Japan’s leaders. A long list of grants and investment packages was prepared by the gracious hosts, anxious no doubt to match the enthusiasm and generosity of the Chinese.
As in Beijing last week, the economy tops the agenda of this visit. But the calibration of the Tokyo visit will be slightly different. The Japanese, after all, are closely allied with the United States and deeply suspicious of China. In fact, spokesmen of the Japanese government made it known ahead of the visit their interest in clarifying some of the statements the President made in Beijing the week before.
In a word, the President in Tokyo will be dealing with a different dragon. He is fully aware of that.
China is like the wild west of capitalism. In a generation, this immense country was able to grow its economy to be the second largest in the world. An 80-million-strong middle class is shaping this rapidly evolving nation. The Chinese Communist Party is engrossed with reimagining this nation’s role in the world.
Japan, in contrast, is a mature industrial society resembling Western Europe in many ways. Its population is aging rapidly. Although still at the cutting edge of new developments, Japan wrestles with the problems of slowing growth and declining industry.
The Chinese and the Japanese view each other through the lenses of past conflict. Earlier in the last century, Japan occupied large parts of China. Today, the Japanese are wary about China’s awesome military power that could easily undercut their role in the world.
Our bilateral relationship with China was long neglected, and only now being revived in earnest. In contrast, our bilateral relationship with Japan is a fully mature one. Since the postwar period, Japan paid us reparations for the damage wrought by the Great War. They built the Pan-Philippine highway as a gesture of friendship. Today, Japan is our greatest source of international assistance.
After the United States, Japan is our biggest source of military assistance. Currently, it is preparing to deliver more ships for both our Navy and our Coast Guard. Regularly, warships from the Japanese Navy come calling on our ports. In Tokyo’s view, the Philippines is an indispensable ally in pushing back what it considers to be Beijing’s aggressive strategy in the region.
Despite strategic concerns, Japanese companies have invested extensively in China. They have been important sources of capital and technological know-how for China’s galloping growth. Their productive attitude toward China may bring us many lessons in pragmatism. Power designs need not be a hindrance to doing business.
Japan is an important market for our exports. A growing Filipino community in this mature industrial economy fills the gaps created by the demographic dilemma Japan finds itself facing. While anxious to preserve the homogeneity of its society, it recognizes that it cannot do without migrant talent. The Japanese trust Filipinos more than anyone else in trying to fill the skills gaps in their home economy.
Its long imperial past notwithstanding, Japan is now a deeply democratic society. Its leaders could politely raise concerns over human rights and due process. They will do that properly: in private and in the most subtle terms. In Oriental cultures, after all, saving face is important, especially for allies of long standing. This is the sort of sympathetic diplomacy our President appreciates. He will more than willingly reciprocate.
The Japanese Prime Minister has not concealed his admiration for the new Filipino leader, unique as the latter’s methods might be. He said that much during the Asean summit in Vientiane. He is aware that ordinary Japanese in a way perceive Rodrigo Duterte as some sort of Filipino samurai, giving flesh to the honorable warrior code of the Bushido. He is a person whose word could be trusted and for whom honor is paramount.
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