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Japan's Abe ends Philippine visit with investment, aid pledge

The two leaders shared breakfast of mung bean soup and rice cakes in Duterte's residence in an apparent bid to strengthen personal ties.

In this photo provided by the Presidential Photographers Division Malacanang Palace, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, right, hands a gift to visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie to the President's residence at Dona Luisa Village in Davao City, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in the southern Philippines.

Rene Lumawag, Presidential Photographers' Division

In this photo provided by the Presidential Photographers Division Malacanang Palace, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, right, hands a gift to visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie to the President's residence at Dona Luisa Village in Davao City, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in the southern Philippines.

DAVAO, Philippines — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was on his way to Australia on Friday after a visit to the Philippines where he pledged $8.7 billion worth of business opportunities and private investments along with equipment to fight terrorism.

He left for Sydney from southern Davao city, President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown, where the two shared breakfast of mung bean soup and rice cakes in Duterte's residence in an apparent bid to strengthen personal ties.

Abe and Duterte also attended a ceremony to name an endangered Philippine eagle Sakura, or cherry blossom, in Abe's honour . The two leaders and their wives ate durian fruit in a hotel garden as dancers performed to the beat of brass gongs.

Abe and his wife Akie were later welcomed by young students waving miniature Philippine and Japanese flags and singing Japanese songs at the Mindanao Kokusai Daigaku, a school established by descendants of Japanese who settled in Davao before World War II.

On Thursday, in Manila Abe welcomed Duterte's efforts to boost ties with Beijing following the Philippines' victory in an arbitration ruling declaring China's claims to the South China Sea invalid.

China has refused to recognize the July arbitration decision and has warned the United States and other countries not to meddle in the disputes, which Beijing wants to be settled through one-on-one negotiations with other rival claimant countries like the Philippines.

Abe, however, said "the issue of the South China Sea is linked directly to regional peace and stability and is a concern to the entire international community."

His two-day visit was aimed to solidify relations with the Philippines at a time Duterte is cozying up to China and Russia while taking a hostile stance toward Tokyo's main ally, the United States. Japan is among the top trading partners of the Philippines and one of its largest aid providers.

It was Abe's first stop in a four-nation swing as he seeks to boost Japan's trade and security engagements amid China's rise to Asian dominance. After Australia, he visits Indonesia and Vietnam.

Accompanied by a business delegation, Abe was the first head of state to visit since Duterte took office in June. It's an important affirmation of Duterte's leadership at a time when he faces domestic and international criticism for a crackdown on illegal drugs that has claimed more than 6,000 lives.

Japan, Abe said, will help the Philippines fight illegal drugs by helping formulate treatment programs and improve facilities.

He said Japan "will create business opportunities through Official Development Assistance and private sector investments which, together, will be in the order of one trillion yen ($8.7 billion) over the next five years."

Abe and Duterte witnessed the signing of a number of agreements and the exchange of documents, including a Japanese grant of 600 million yen ($5 million) for boats and other counterterrorism equipment for the Philippine Coast Guard.

Duterte visited Japan in October, when he and Abe agreed to co-operate in promoting regional peace and stability, and acknowledged the importance of their alliances with Washington.

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Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Teresa Cerojano in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.