When Donald meets Rodrigo: See you tomorrow
DA NANG, Vietnam — “See you tomorrow.”
These, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, were some of the words uttered by US President Donald Trump to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during their brief meeting, their first face-to-face encounter, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit here on Saturday.
Trump was obviously referring to his attendance at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (Asean) Summit which the Philippines is hosting in Manila.
Describing the meeting at an Apec leader’s retreat at Intercontinental Da Nang Resort as “short but warm and cordial,” Roque said Mr. Duterte and Trump “were generally pleased to finally meet each other in person.”
Trump told Mr. Duterte “see you tomorrow,” Roque said. The two had talked on the phone twice prior to meeting face-to-face.
Trump was expected to head for Manila today for the Asean Summit, which would be the last leg of his 12-day Asian trip, the longest by a US president.
Mr. Duterte, sometimes described as “Trump of the East” because of his brash and mercurial style, said on Wednesday that he would tell Trump to “lay off” if the US president raised the issue of human rights in their meeting.
Philippine police had acknowledged more than 3,900 drug suspects had been killed in police operations in connection with Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.
Human rights groups in the Philippines, however, said up to 13,000 people had been killed in both police operations and gangland-style killings believed to be perpetrated by vigilantes.
Critics of the bloody antidrug campaign decried the impunity with which the killings were being perpetrated, but police said killings outside of legitimate operations were “deaths under investigation,” or DUI.
Trump, criticized at home for his crackdown on immigrants and neglect of international rights issues, in May praised Mr. Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”
Except human rights
Human rights, rule of law and due process were among topics that Trump and Mr. Duterte would likely discuss during bilateral talks, according to Sung Kim, US ambassador to Manila, in a report last month.
But Roque said the two were likely to skip human rights or Mr. Duterte’s bloody war on drugs in their conversation but focus on territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
According to Roque, it was “safe to assume” that the West Philippine Sea territorial disputes would be the main topic of the leaders’ meeting because Trump had remarked once that it was also in the interest of the US to maintain freedom of navigation in “one of the busiest sea routes in the world.”
“It is to the interest of everyone that countries in the region, including claimants to the disputed islands and waters of the West Philippine Sea, recognize the principle of freedom of navigation,” Roque said.
“I think the President of the Philippines joins the rest of the world in maintaining that there should be freedom of navigation in a very crucial sea passage, sea-lane passage,” he added.
Mr. Duterte, according to Roque, will “refuse to pursue any talks relating to a domestic issue, such as his war on drugs.”
“I’m confident that President Trump, having endorsed Duterte’s war on drugs, will also see no necessity in bringing it up,” Roque said.
Another topic that was likely to be discussed by Mr. Duterte and Trump, said Roque, was the North Korean nuclear threat.
Mr. Duterte, said Roque, “has warned against what he has described as another nuclear holocaust and he has encouraged all states to communicate with each other.”
Roque said Mr. Duterte “has attached tremendous importance” to the North Korean threat and “recognized that any resort to the use of force, particularly nuclear weapons, would result in dire consequences to the entire region.”
Mr. Duterte viewed war on the Korean Peninsula as a threat also to the economic development of the Philippines.
He skipped an Apec leader’s gala dinner on Friday during which Trump, in his speech, praised the Philippines for achievements in gender equality.
Roque said Mr. Duterte skipped the gala dinner because he was “attending to urgent Asean hosting matters.”
Mr. Duterte also supervised and coordinated military operations to recover Vietnamese captives of Abu Sayyaf although one captive was found dead.
The first chance for Mr. Duterte and Trump to personally meet could have been during the Apec Business Advisory Council and informal dialogue between Apec and Asean, both held on Friday, but Trump was absent in the two events. —With reports from the wires
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