NZ foreign minister ‘charmed’ by Duterte
President Rodrigo Duterte “charmed” New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully on Tuesday as he justified the Philippine government’s controversial war on illegal drugs.
Mr. Duterte also commiserated with the country over the strong earthquake that struck its South Island earlier this month.
Mr. Duterte discussed a wide range of topics with McCully, including cooperation between the two countries against terrorism in the Asia Pacific region and the need to maintain peace and stability in the region, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said.
The two leaders conveyed their desire to boost bilateral cooperation between their countries, particularly through improved trade and investment in key areas such as the dairy industry, said Andanar.
The President made a brief stop in Auckland on his way home from Peru, where he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit with other world leaders.
He also met with and posed for pictures with Filipinos in Auckland, many of whom even mimicked his signature clenched fist pose.
“[The President] highlighted the importance of the Philippines’ fight against criminality particularly against illegal drugs, emphasizing its vital importance in the Philippines and the region, and warned of its dire consequences if unchecked,” Andanar said.
McCully for his part said he discussed the disputed South China Sea with the “charming” Philippine leader.
McCully said the pair had a wide-ranging discussion late on Tuesday but declined to comment on whether Duterte’s controversial drugs crackdown was discussed.
“He’s a tough guy but he was warm, courteous and actually quite charming,” McCully told the New Zealand Herald after the meeting. “He doesn’t beat around the bush. He has got quite firm views and he expresses them, and very colorfully.”
Police and vigilante groups have killed about 5,000 people in the Philippines since President Duterte came to power in July, and launched an unrelenting campaign against illegal drugs. He also attracted criticism from human rights watchdogs, the United States and the United Nations.
The meeting in Auckland comes at a tense time for relations between the Philippines and the United States, its strongest Western ally. Duterte has made repeated threats and verbal tirades against the United States, a significant donor, and is making overtures to Russia and to China.
Duterte lashed out at Western “bullying” and “hypocrisy” during his first meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Peru on Saturday and said, when it came to alliances, the United States could not be trusted.
Adham Crichton, a spokesperson for McCully, said on Wednesday there would be no further comment on the Auckland discussions because it was not a formal bilateral meeting.
Mr. Duterte proposed that the two countries work together to combat terrorism, amid Manila’s war against a small band of militants holding hostage several Western hostages.
Mr. Duterte and McCully also sought more robust agricultural ties. New Zealand, the Philippines’ biggest source of dairy products, may help build the country’s dairy industry.
Mr. Duterte thanked New Zealand for assisting typhoon victims in the Philippines and for hosting more than 44,000 Filipinos, who McCully said, play vital roles in the healthcare, dairy, and construction industries.
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