Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks set to manage a delicate balancing act, as he hosts Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his raft of new foreign policy objectives.
Fresh from a tour to the mainland where he cemented his country's pivot to China, Duterte arrives in Tokyo on Tuesday, where he will meet with Abe and top C-suite executives. But Duterte has placed Abe in a tricky situation, having announced a vague separation from the U.S, Japan's number one ally, and a pivot to China, Tokyo's top rival, last week.
"On one hand, Abe is in a tough spot given Duterte's bombastic rhetoric on the U.S., but on the positive side, Japan remains a very well-liked country in the Philippines and can play an increasingly important role as a facilitator if ties between Manila and Washington continue to descend," J. Berkshire Miller, international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, explained.
One thing's for certain, PM Abe will limit the number of public events during Duterte's visit to contain any potentially explosive rhetoric, Miller added. At previous press conferences, firebrand Duterte has insulted U.S. President Barack Obama, amongst others.
Analysts widely agree that Abe will also be smart enough to don his mediator hat and overlook Duterte's views on the U.S. and China.
Japan's head of state has worked hard to create diplomatic space for his country by maintaining a presence in countries where the U.S. isn't friendly, such as Turkey and Russia, effectively guaranteeing Japan's autonomy in foreign relations, Tobias Harris, senior associate at Teneo Intelligence, said.
"In a way, it's kind of money in the bank. If Washington really needs an intermediary in the future, Japan may be in a position to do that," he said. For now, Japan merely wanted assurance that Manila wasn't going to jump off the deep end when it came to breaking ties with the U.S, he added.