Trump meets Duterte

U. S. pres­i­dent de­clines to speak pub­licly about hu­man rights is­sues in Philip­pines

The Welland Tribune - - WORLD NEWS - JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN

MANILA, Philip­pines — His lengthy Asia trip down to its fi­nal days, U. S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump opted Mon­day to keep his pub­lic fo­cus on top pri­or­i­ties such as trade and com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism rather than hu­man rights, de­clin­ing to shine a spot­light on the vi­o­lent drug war over­seen by his Philip­pine host.

Trump re­peat­edly praised Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, call­ing him by his first name, shar­ing a joke about the me­dia and even com­pli­ment­ing Manila’s weather. What he did not do was what many pre­de­ces­sors have done be­fore: high­light hu­man rights abuses while over­seas.

Duterte has over­seen a bloody drug war that has fea­tured ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings. He has even boasted about killing peo­ple with his own hands. But dur­ing brief re­marks to re­porters, Trump said he and Duterte have “had a great re­la­tion­ship” and avoided ques­tions on whether he’d raise hu­man rights is­sues with Filipino lead­ers.

The White House later said the two lead­ers dis­cussed Is­lamic State, il­le­gal drugs and trade dur­ing the 40- minute meet­ing. Press Sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said hu­man rights came up “briefly” in the con­text of the Philip­pines’ fight against il­le­gal drugs. She did not say if Trump was crit­i­cal of Duterte’s pro­gram.

That ap­peared to con­flict with the Filipino ver­sion of the meet­ing. Harry Roque, a spokesman for Duterte, said, “There was no men­tion of hu­man rights. There was no men­tion of ex­trale­gal killings. There was only a rather lengthy dis­cus­sion of the Philip­pine war on drugs with Pres­i­dent Duterte do­ing most of the ex­plain­ing.”

De­spite all that, the two sides later is­sued a joint state­ment say­ing that “the two sides un­der­scored that hu­man rights and the dig­nity of hu­man life are es­sen­tial, and agreed to con­tinue main­stream­ing the hu­man rights agenda in their na­tional pro­grams.”

On the side­lines of an in­ter­na­tional sum­mit, Trump looked to strengthen ties with Pa­cific Rim al­lies, aim­ing to strike bi­lat­eral rather than multi­na­tional trade agree­ments, and in­crease pres­sure on North Korea to aban­don its nu­clear pro­gram. He met with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi on Mon­day and high­lighted their two na­tions’ “deeper and more com­pre­hen­sive” ties, look­ing to strengthen a re­la­tion­ship that is vi­tal to the U. S. vi­sion of an In­doPa­cific re­gion that at­tempts to deem­pha­size China’s in­flu­ence.

He jointly met with Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull, with whom he had a con­tentious phone call last win­ter, and Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, who hosted the pres­i­dent in Tokyo ear­lier in the trip. Trump raved about his ac­com­plish­ments on his five- na­tion jour­ney, par­tic­u­larly on trade and on North Korea, which the White House has sug­gested may be des­ig­nated a state spon­sor of ter­ror.

Trump said he would wait un­til his re­turn to Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day to elab­o­rate with a “ma­jor state­ment” on those two topics but hinted at progress while in Manila.

“We’ve made some very big steps with re­gard to trade — far big­ger than any­thing you know,” Trump told re­porters, point­ing to busi­ness deals forged be­tween U. S. and for­eign com­pa­nies.

“We’ve made a lot of big progress on trade. We have deficits with al­most ev­ery­body. Those deficits are go­ing to be cut very quickly and very sub­stan­tially,” Trump said.

“Ex­cept us,” Turn­bull chimed in, to laughs.

“You’re the only one,” Trump re­sponded. Trump met pri­vately with Turn­bull later Mon­day. But his in­ter­ac­tions with Duterte drew the most scru­tiny.

Ad­vis­ers had said that while Trump was al­ways un­likely to pub­licly chas­tise Duterte, he might of­fer crit­i­cisms be­hind closed doors. Trump would hold his tongue in pub­lic to avoid em­bar­rass­ing Duterte, whom he is urg­ing to help pres­sure North Korea and fight ter­ror­ism, and to avoid push­ing him into the arms of China. Duterte has seemed less com­mit­ted to the strate­gic part­ner­ship with the U. S.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that well over 3,000 peo­ple, mostly drug users and deal­ers, have died in the on­go­ing crack­down. Hu­man rights groups be­lieve the to­tal is far higher, per­haps closer to 9,000.

JIM WAT­SON/ GETTY IM­AGES

Viet­nam’s Prime Min­is­ter Nguyen Xuan Phuc, left, U. S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte join hands for a photo dur­ing the 31st As­so­ci­a­tion of South East Asian Na­tions Sum­mit on Mon­day.

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