Speed Reads

Trump in Asia

Trump and Philippine President Duterte showcase their 'great relationship' before face-to-face meeting

On Monday, President Trump said he and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "had a great relationship," before the two men held their first bilateral meeting on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila. Neither Trump nor Duterte answered questions, and Trump laughed as Duterte half-jokingly called reporters "spies" and Philippine security personnel "jostled some of them roughly" before ushering them out of the room, The New York Times reports. The two leaders did not discuss human rights much or at all, depending on who you asked.

After their 40-minute meeting, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "the conversation focused on ISIS, illegal drugs, and trade. Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines' fight against illegal drugs." Duterte spokesman Harry Roque said "the issue of human rights did not arise; it was not brought up." Duterte had discussed his country's "drug menace," Roque said, and Trump "appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter and was merely nodding his head, indicating that he understood the domestic problem that we faced on drugs." Duterte had faced international criticism for encouraging the extrajudicial killings of at least 6,000 drug users and dealers.

Also attending the meeting was Jose E.B. Antonio, a Duterte trade envoy and and real estate developer who is also Trump's partner on a $150 million luxury tower in Manila. The meeting highlighted Trump's much warmer relationship with Duterte than Duterte had with his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. Still, Roque said that Duterte's main focus is improving relationships with other Asian nations, especially China. Duterte had politely rebuffed Trump's offer to mediate the dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea, explaining, "Today, China is the No. 1 economic powerhouse, and we have to be friends."