By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
THE RESIGNATION of Shinzo Abe as Japan’s prime minister may affect the Philippines’ foreign policy towards the United States and China as well as its loan availment in the long term, analysts said separately at the weekend.
But in the immediate future, the ties developed between Mr. Abe and Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte are seen to keep political and economic relations strong.
Renato C. de Castro, international studies professor at De La Salle University, said Mr. Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, served as a “bulwark of stability” that convinced Mr. Duterte to decide against severing ties with the United States and leaning towards China and Russia at the beginning of his term.
“That would be a great loss in terms of providing a sort of bulwark or at least a balancer in terms of the efforts of President to effect the dramatic change in Philippine foreign policy,” Mr. De Castro said by telephone on Saturday.
Mr. Duterte, in a statement on Saturday following Mr. Abe’s announcement on Friday that he is stepping down due to a chronic illness, said the bilateral relations between the two countries, “now a Strategic Partnership, greatly flourished during his (Mr. Abe’s) tenure.”
“What we have worked for and achieved together lays the foundation for an even closer friendship and cooperation between our countries in the future,” the Philippine leader said.
Mr. De Castro said Mr. Abe had talked to Mr. Duterte about the Philippines’ continued alliance with the US during a visit to Tokyo in 2016, and reiterated that message during the former’s visit to the latter’s hometown Davao in 2017.
He also noted that Mr. Abe’s administration provided 10 multi-purpose patrol vessels, intended to be deployed in the West Philippine Sea to strengthen the Philippine Coast Guard’s response to China’s threat in the disputed waters.
The former prime minister also strengthened financial assistance to the Philippines in the face of significant commitments offered by China.
“Prime Minister Abe made it a point for the president and for the Philippines to take Japanese into account,” Mr. De Castro said.
China in 2016 committed $24 billion to the Philippines, but “they (Japan) don’t have that amount of money, so they did everything that was possible to prevent us from making that dramatic change towards falling into the Chinese orbit.”
Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said the change in Japan’s leadership is not expected to dramatically shift foreign policy in the short term.
Ms. Atienza said changes may come later depending on developments in public dissatisfaction over Japan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the aging population, its relations with China and the US, and its pacifist constitution.
“Any change in Japanese foreign policy can have implications in the security of the Asia Pacific region,” she said in an emailed response on Sunday.
Mr. Abe’s successor will keep the post until the end of his term in September 2021, during which Ms. Atienza said Japan’s loans and grants will not likely be affected.
Japan has been the country’s top source of official development assistance (ODA), accounting for 42.66% in the first quarter this year with $8.537 billion in grants and loans.
“ODA commitments will likely continue in the near future although COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) has affected the economies of many countries in the world, even developed countries,” she said.
Michael L. Ricafort, chief economist of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., said Japan-Philippine ties will likely be sustained, citing the good relations between Messrs. Abe and Duterte as well as the Philippines’ improved credit rating.
“The resignation of Japan Prime Minister Abe would definitely require some adjustments for the Philippines to also further develop good diplomatic and business ties with the new Prime Minister of Japan, though continuation of good ties between Japan and the Philippines would likely remain/sustain as seen in many years/decades,” he said over email on Saturday.
He also pointed out that Japan Credit Ratings Agency’s upgrade of the Philippines’ rating in June, despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a sign of “improved international investor confidence.”