Trump, Duterte re­build­ing ties

But chal­lenges re­main in trade, cli­mate and ter­ri­to­rial is­sues

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON — After a pe­riod of an­i­mos­ity be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Manila, the lead­ers of the United States and the Philip­pines im­proved ties on Sun­day and Mon­day. But ex­perts said chal­lenges re­main.

The meet­ing “went well, so I would ex­pect them to have a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship,” said Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion Se­nior Fel­low Dar­rell West, re­fer­ring to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s trip to the Philip­pines Sun­day and Mon­day, at the tail end of his much-pub­li­cized Asia trip.

“The two are tough men who take a strong stance against op­po­nents so they have a sim­i­lar lead­er­ship style,” West said of Trump and Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte.

The meet­ings come around a year after Duterte had a falling out with for­mer US pres­i­dent Barack Obama, after Duterte lobbed a per­sonal in­sult at the US pres­i­dent, caus­ing Obama to can­cel their meet­ing.

Trump said on Mon­day he had a “great re­la­tion­ship” with Duterte, mak­ing lit­tle men­tion of Duterte’s war on drugs and al­leged ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings of drug ad­dicts and deal­ers, for which West­ern lead­ers and rights ac­tivists have blasted the Philip­pines’ pres­i­dent.

“We had a great re­la­tion­ship,” Trump said, trum­pet­ing Duterte’s host­ing of the meet­ings, in­clud­ing a gala din­ner on Sun­day and a num­ber of Philip­pine cul­tural per­for­mances on Mon­day.

Echo­ing those thoughts, Duterte Spokesman Harry Roque said: “Trump specif­i­cally said he has al­ways been a friend of the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion, un­like the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions of the United States. He stressed that he can be counted on as a friend of the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

West said the two coun­tries “have a long his­tory that should en­able the lead­ers to work well to­gether. Duterte did not like Obama so the shared an­tipa­thy will cre­ate a tie that binds be­tween the lead­ers.”

But at the same time, some an­a­lysts said there re­main a num­ber of is­sues that need to be re­solved be­tween the United States and the Philip­pines.

“I think there will be broader is­sues that re­main to be re­solved be­tween the US and the Philip­pines, be­yond the meet­ing be­tween Pres­i­dents Trump and Duterte and their shared dis­like of pres­i­dent Obama,” said Dan Ma­haf­fee, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent and direc­tor of pol­icy at the Cen­ter for the Study of Congress and the Pres­i­dency.

Even with Trump’s own stances on law and or­der, the al­leged hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in the Philip­pines and con­cerns about Manila’s ap­proach to Is­lamic State re­quire con­tin­ued US at­ten­tion and as­sis­tance, ex­perts said.

Per­sonal re­la­tion­ship

There is some dis­agree­ments among an­a­lysts re­gard­ing whether per­sonal re­la­tion­ship be­tween lead­ers mat­ter, or whether that’s all op­tics and what re­ally mat­ters is each na­tion’s goals.

Sup­port­ers of the lat­ter ar­gu­ment con­tend that what mat­ters most are na­tional in­ter­ests, and that leader’s per­sonal re­la­tion­ships are in­con­se­quen­tial.

West said in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tions are im­por­tant in for­eign pol­icy.

“If two in­di­vid­u­als feel a per­sonal chem­istry, that can help them work to­gether and re­solve im­por­tant is­sues,” West said.

Ma­haf­fee said while the op­tics and pomp and cir­cum­stance play into Trump’s per­cep­tions of the visit, the progress on a wide range of ar­eas from trade, ter­ri­to­rial is­sues, cli­mate and other agree­ments re­main the real chal­lenge for these meet­ings.

Trump’s Philip­pines visit comes at the tail end of his Asia tour, which also in­cludes Ja­pan, the Repub­lic of Korea, China and Viet­nam.


US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump holds a bi­lat­eral meet­ing with Pres­i­dent of the Philip­pines Ro­drigo Duterte along­side the ASEAN lead­ers’ meet­ing in Manila on Mon­day.

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