During his trip to the Philippines on Monday, Trump bonded with the nation’s leader Rodrigo Duterte over their shared dislike of Barack Obama.
“The relationship appears to be very warm and very friendly,” Duterte spokesman Harry Roque told reporters after they met in Manila. “They’ve been very candid in their dealings, and it’s very apparent that both of them have a person who they consider as not their best friend. They have similar feelings toward former U.S. President Barack Obama.”
Bloomberg reported that before the meeting, Trump said he had a “great relationship” with Duterte and called the regional meetings in Manila “very successful.” The two leaders ignored shouted questions about alleged abuses carried out under Duterte’s deadly battle against narcotics.
This came a year after Duterte cursed out Obama for criticizing his war on drugs that has left thousands dead. The Philippine leader then pivoted toward China, de-escalating tensions with Beijing over their competing South China Sea claims and winning $24 billion worth of Chinese investment and loans.
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On Monday, Trump held a three-way meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, both U.S. allies, and separately met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The American president said he made “big progress” on trade during his 11-day Asia trip, and would make a statement on North Korea and trade when he returns to the U.S.
Last year, Duterte questioned the U.S. alliance and told Obama he could “go to hell” after the former U.S. president called for his drugs war to be fought “in a way that’s consistent with basic international norms.” Today, Duterte again paid respect to a mutual defense treaty that has underpinned the U.S.’s Asia-Pacific strategy since World War II.
“We are your ally,” Duterte said to Trump. “We are an important ally.”
U.S. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that human rights came up briefly in the context of Duterte’s fight against illegal drugs, adding that the conversation also focused on the Islamic State and trade. However, Duterte’s spokesman disputed this and said that Trump “appeared sympathetic” when the Philippine president explained about the country’s drug problems during their 40-minute meeting.
“There was no mention of human rights,” Roque told reporters. “There was no mention of extrajudicial killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion about the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining.”
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