PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday sought to persuade Japanese businessmen that the country is “open for business,” offering warm words about their country in sharp contrast to the angry rhetoric he had for the United States, which he told to “pack up and leave.”
In a speech to an investment forum in Tokyo on Wednesday, Mr. Duterte said stronger economic ties with Japan—“a longstanding friend and ally”—are a priority.
“We look to Japan as a steady fulcrum in our regional engagement as the Philippines’ first and only bilateral free-trade partner to date,” Duterte said during the Philippine Economic Forum in Tokyo.
“We would like to see more investors and more businesses setting up shop in the Philippines,” he said, adding that he sought Japanese cooperation on key infrastructure projects.
The country is celebrating its 60th year of relations with Japan, which has been the Philippines’ top trading partner, top source of approved investments, and second biggest source of official development assistance.
Duterte, who described Japan as a “true friend,” said that greater political, economic and defense cooperation will be on the top of his list.
“We count on Japan to further extend its valuable support in our pursuits for promoting rural development, increasing agriculture productivity, accelerating infrastructure spending and investing in human capital development,” Duterte said.
“These economic development thrusts are necessary ingredients in making the growth [have an] impact on the lives of our people,” he added.
On Tuesday, before a cheering audience of resident Filipinos, Duterte called Americans “stupid”—but went out of his way to praise his hosts.
“Japan has really been our biggest helper,” he said, pointing to help with an airport and road-building projects. “The fact is they are really so very kind.”
Duterte told reporters before he left that he was keen to boost bilateral trade and was looking forward to meeting top Japanese executives.
“I will tell them clearly that the Philippines is open for business,” he said, adding he wanted Japanese cooperation on key infrastructure projects.
“In particular, we can tap the experience and expertise of Japan in developing high quality and modern public transportation,” he said.
Duterte had earlier told Japanese media that he will be asking Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for greater assistance in building more railways for the country, particularly in Mindanao and would be working hard to achieve regional stability.
“In this light, we appreciate Japan’s role in the peace-building efforts in Mindanao that is geared towards attainment of a more peaceful life for our country and the ending the vicious cycle of poverty and conflict.”
“Complimentarily, we also need to decentralize growth through agriculture development, particularly in rural areas, which are more dependent on agriculture like Mindanao, that produce the country’s top agricultural exports such as bananas, pineapples, coconut and tuna.
“We must likewise pursue improved connectivity to the infrastructure development projects. Japan has the corresponding capacity to be our reliable partner in all its resources, expertise and technical know-how.”
In the same forum, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said that the government was working to ease limits to foreign ownership of Philippine businesses and that the Philippine economy could sustain economic growth of seven percent or higher.
“We intend to sustain GDP [gross domestic product] growth of seven percent or better and bring down poverty rate from 26.5 percent to 17 percent in 2022,” Dominguez said.
“With growth momentum, low inflation rate, stable currency, and strong political leadership, the Philippines earnestly opens our doors to business with our neighbors. The new government has taken decisive steps to improve the ease of doing business in the country [and] we will respond helpfully to assist the inflow of investments,” Domimguez said.
The Philippines recently improved its ranking in the latest World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report as it moved up four notches this year to No. 99 out of 190 economies and ranked 7th among 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member-countries.
Its performance improved in four of the 10 doing business indicators, slipped in four others, and remained the same in the remaining two criteria, according the World Bank report.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the government was eyeing 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent growth in 2017 and seven percent to eight percent growth in 2018.
“This can be sustained only if underlying infrastructure support is provided,” Pernia said in the same forum.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s top government spokesman, said on Wednesday that the government will continue to aid Philippine development, but he sidestepped questions whether the strained relations between the Philippines and the United States would be a summit topic.
Duterte’s harsh criticism of Washington is likely to be embarrassing for Tokyo, which depends on the US for its security. But Japan itself has so far avoided any criticism, while the US has taken a calm approach.
“We’re going to take the long view,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said regarding Tuesday’s verbal assault.
“We’re not going to react and respond to every bit of rhetoric. We’re going to continue to work at this relationship,” he added. With Gabrielle H. Binaday, AFP
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