Trump praises re­la­tion­ship with Filipino leader, side­steps hu­man rights ques­tions

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - International - By Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin

MANILA, Philip­pines — Wind­ing down his visit to Asia, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­peat­edly praised Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, called him by his first name, shared a joke with him about the me­dia and even com­pli­mented Manila’s weather. What he did not do Mon­day was what many of his pre­de­ces­sors made a point of do­ing while abroad: pub­licly high­light hu­man rights abuses.

Mr. Duterte has over­seen a bloody drug war that has fea­tured ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings. But dur­ing brief re­marks to re­porters, Mr. Trump said he and Mr. Duterte have “had a great re­la­tion­ship,” and he avoided ques­tions about whether he’d raise hu­man rights con­cerns with the Filipino leader dur­ing a pri­vate meet­ing on the side­lines of a sum­mit of South­east Asian lead­ers.

The White House later said the two lead­ers dis­cussed the Is­lamic State group, 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, but she did not say if Mr. Trump was crit­i­cal of Mr. Duterte’s pro­gram.

That ap­peared to con­flict with the Filipino ver­sion of the meet­ing. Harry Roque, a spokesman for Mr. 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.”

They 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.”

Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs has alarmed hu­man rights ad­vo­cates around the world who say it has al­lowed po­lice of­fi­cers and vig­i­lantes to ig­nore due process and to take jus­tice into their own hands. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that over 3,000 peo­ple, mostly drug users and deal­ers, have died in the on­go­ing crack­down. Hu­man rights groups be­lieve the vic­tim to­tal is per­haps closer to 9,000.

In Manila for the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions con­fer­ence, Mr. Trump looked to strengthen ties with Pa­cific Rim al­lies, aim­ing to strike one-on-one trade deals rather than multi­na­tional trade agree­ments, and in­crease pres­sure on North Korea to aban­don its nu­clear pro­gram.

He met with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi 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 Indo-Pa­cific re­gion that at­tempts to de-em­pha­size 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. Mr. 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.

Mr. 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,” Mr. Trump said.

Andrew Harnik/As­so­ci­ated Press

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, cen­ter, re­acts as he does the “ASEAN-way hand­shake” with Viet­namese Prime Min­is­ter Nguyen Xuan Phuc, left, and Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte on stage dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony at the ASEAN Sum­mit at the Cul­tural Cen­ter of the Philip­pines on Mon­day in Manila, Philip­pines.

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