Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers a speech during the change of command ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo in Manila on October 26, 2017. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte leads the military change of command from outgoing chief of staff General Eduardo Ano to new head Lieutenant General Rey Lenonardo Guerrero. NOEL CELIS / AFP
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday pledged to “limit my mouth” in a meeting with Japan’s revered Emperor Akihito this week following previous concerns in Tokyo the profanity-prone leader would spark diplomatic tensions.
Duterte said he would have an audience with the 83-year-old Akihito — a popular and respected figure in Japan — during his two-day visit to Tokyo. A scheduled meeting last year was cancelled following a death in the imperial family.
That meeting had put Japanese officials on faux pas alert after a video of Duterte with President Xi Jinping in China showed him apparently chewing gum — considered rude in Japan on such an occasion.
“I suppose that I have to limit my mouth there except maybe to bring the warm greetings of the Filipino nation, a grateful nation to Japan,” Duterte told reporters before departing for Tokyo on Sunday night.
“It’s a kind of a homage to see the emperor before he abdicates,” Duterte added, referring to Akihito’s plan to retire after nearly three decades on the throne.
The acid-tongued Duterte often curses critics, including former US President Barack Obama, and is known to shun formal protocols.
Since winning elections last year, Duterte has sought to boost the Philippines’ ties with Japan, its top foreign aid donor and second largest trading partner in 2016 after China.
That comes as he loosens the country’s 70-year alliance with the United States in favour of closer relations with China and Russia.
On his second trip to Tokyo, Duterte said he would ask for Japanese aid in rebuilding the southern Philippine city of Marawi following a five-month battle against militants loyal to the Islamic State group which left the city in ruins.
Duterte will meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before hosting a regional summit in Manila next month to be attended by Asia-Pacific leaders and US President Donald Trump.