A leader of a self-respecting nation has to make a difficult balancing act when it comes to foreign policy.
The task is made even more daunting when a national leader is pushing an independent foreign policy.
He or she must carefully weigh official pronouncements relating to bilateral or multilateral relations.
In diplomacy as in any form of human relations, the goal is to please a host country and not upset either its leaders or its people.
Therefore, public utterances by the President during visits to foreign capitals must cater to the sensibilities – political, social, and cultural – of his hosts.
Sometimes, Presidents engage in exuberant remarks while addressing his or her hosts.
This much we can give our very colorful President with an even more colorful language.
And so he does it again – clarifying his previous clarifications of an earlier statement.
President Rodrigo Duterte softened his remarks about a “separation” from long-time ally the United States on the eve of a visit to Japan, a country worried about Manila’s apparent pivot away from Washington and toward China.
“The alliances are alive,” he told Japanese media in Manila on Monday, Kyodo News reported. “There should be no worry about changes of alliances. I do not need to have alliances with other nations.”
The remarks will be welcomed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to keep ties with the Philippines tight during Duterte’s visit to Japan, starting last Tuesday.
Duterte jolted the region last week on a trip to China when he announced a realignment toward Beijing, the latest in a series of outbursts against the United States.
Duterte and his aides later tried to clarify that he did not mean he was cutting ties with the United States and his remarks on Monday were the most conciliatory yet.
He told Japanese media he had been expressing a personal opinion, not speaking for the government when he mentioned separating from Washington, the Nikkei newspaper said. He said he only plans to have an “alliance of trade and commerce” with China, Kyodo reported.
The Yomiuri newspaper, however, said Duterte had repeated he wants to halt joint military exercises with the United States and end a military cooperation pact seen as crucial to projecting U.S. power in Asia in the face of a fast-rising China.
Abe has sought to strengthen ties with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries as a counter-balance to Beijing.
“It’s certainly unfortunate and we are worried, but such things will not change Japan’s commitment to the Philippines,” said Narushige Michishita, a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and former defense official, referring to Duterte’s comments.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, after talking to his Philippine counterpart on Sunday, is confident the two countries can “work through” a period of confusion caused by Duterte’s remarks, the State Department said.
Japanese officials said Abe would not overtly try to mediate between Tokyo and Washington but would probably explain the importance of the U.S. role in the region.