Trump bonds with Duterte over shared media hatred
US President Donald Trump said yesterday he had a "great relationship" with his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, amid contradictory messages from the administration of each country over whether human rights were discussed.
The two presidents bonded during their much-anticipated first formal meeting yesterday, held on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Manila. The two presidents shared a joke at the media's expense, with Mr Trump laughing as Mr Duterte joked that the press are "spies".
According to Harry Roque, a Philippines government spokesman, the two presidents bonded over another shared dislike, former US President Barack Obama, who Mr Duterte dismissed as "a son of a whore" due to Mr Obama's criticism of the violent anti-drugs campaign launched by Mr Duterte in 2016.
Philippine foreign ministry spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said the two presidents (below) shared "an excellent rapport" - a bromance on full view at an official dinner hosted by Mr Duterte on Sunday night for Trump and heads of government from around the Pacific Rim.
Mr Trump and Mr Duterte raised a toast before the Philippine president took to the stage to croon a Filipino ballad, egged on by his American counterpart.
However, contradictory accounts of the details of their meeting emerged yesterday afternoon, with White House press officer Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling media that the leaders' conversation "focused on Isis, illegal drugs, and trade".
"Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines' fight against illegal drugs," Mrs Sanders said.
But Mr Roque later denied that human rights were raised and suggested that the two men had a long chat about the Philippines' so-called war on drugs, which has seen thousands of unsolved extrajudicial murders. "No, that issue was not raised. However the president [Duterte] explained in length his war on drugs," Mr Roque said. "From the body language of the US president, he seemed to be in agreement," he added.
According to Mr Roque, Mr Trump spoke at length about trade issues, saying that US car exports to the Philippines were stymied by what he deems unfair tariffs.
Mr Trump took up the unfair trade line again later yesterday in a wider meeting with the heads of government of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Opening that meeting, Mr Trump again praised Mr Duterte as well as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who visited the White House in September but has been embroiled in a massive financial scandal at a Malaysian state fund - allegations that are being investigated internationally, including by the US Department of Justice. (© Daily Telegraph London)