Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sought to assure Japan on Wednesday by saying that his visit to China last week was about economics only and the South China Sea disputes would be resolved peacefully.

“You know, I went to China for a visit, and I would like to assure you that all there was, was economics. We did not talk about arms. We avoided talking about alliances,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying while meeting with Japanese business leaders.

Analysts said that Duterte is trying to maximize his country’s national interests by cozying up to both China and Japan.

The Philippine president should respect the consensus he reached with China during his visit last week and avoid being influenced by Japan, domestic analysts said.

Describing Japan as a “special friend who is closer than a brother,” Duterte said Manila would work closely with Japan on regional issues of common concern and uphold the values of democracy, rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes, including those involving the South China Sea.

During his four-day state visit to China last week, and his first to a country outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Duterte proved to be more than a man of his words.

His acerbic remarks on the Manila-Washington alliance apart, Duterte made genuine efforts during his visit to China to put Beijing-Manila ties back on track after his predecessor Benigno Aquino III soured the relationship between China and the Philippines by blatantly siding with the US to initiate arbitral proceedings against Beijing over their maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

Interactions between Chinese and Philippine leaders are likely to resume after Duterte’s visit to China, when he and President Xi Jinping oversaw numerous cooperation deals. Duterte’s visit should help the two sides restore the damaged mutual trust and revitalize their cooperation in infrastructure development and combating drug trafficking and terrorism.

(Reporting from China Daily)

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