US President Donald Trump commended President Rodrigo Duterte for his hosting of the 31st summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a forum that the billionaire real estate mogul said should remain “free and open.”
At the Asean-US dialogue on Monday, Trump deviated from his prepared speech and addressed Duterte by his first name, Rodrigo, indicating warming ties between the two outspoken leaders.
“Rodrigo, I would like to commend you and your success as Asean chair at this very critical moment in time and in the association’s history. It is such an important event and I want to thank you for your incredible hospitality,” Trump said.
Speaking at the 40th Asean-US commemorative summit, Trump said: “We want partners in the region to be strong, and prosperous, in control of their destinies and satellites to no one. These are our vision: a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Duterte led Asean leaders in their dialogue with Trump, being chairman of Asean on the regional bloc’s 50th anniversary.
Duterte said the “presence of the President of the United States augurs well for the continuity and the future of Asean and for regional peace and stability at large.”
Trump said that for 50 years, Asean “has put together a vital assembly of nations to build consensus on critical issues facing the region and the world.”
The US is thus committed to Asean’s central role as a regional forum for total cooperation, he said.
“You have created a forum for all nations with a stake in the Indo-Pacific to listen, learn, and develop solutions to come and challenge through strategic dialogue,” Trump said.
Duterte also met Trump during a 40-minute bilateral meeting at the sidelines of the Asean summit, where Trump reaffirmed the “great relationship” between the US and the Philippines.
“We’ve had a great relationship. This has been very successful,” Trump told Duterte, who congratulated the Filipino leader for “beautifully” handling the Asean summit.
The American leader also expressed his appreciation for the Philippine government’s “great treatment” of Asean leaders and dialogue partners who graced the event.
“I really enjoyed being here. The weather is always good. Today it’s pretty good. But one thing about the Philippines, eventually it gets good no matter what. But we very much appreciate the great treatment you have given us,” Trump said.
It was Trump’s first visit to the Philippines as president.
Rights issues not raised
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the issue of alleged human rights violations in the war on drugs did not come up during bilateral talks between Duterte and Trump.
The two leaders, however, had a “frank discussion” on several issues, including the illegal drug trade.
“The issue of human rights did not arise. It was not brought up. It was President Duterte who discussed with President Trump the drug menace in the Philippines, and the US president appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter, merely nodding his head, indicating that he understood the domestic problem that we face on drugs,” Roque said.
“President Trump specifically said that he has always been a friend of the Duterte administration, and that like previous administrations of the United States, he stressed that he can be counted upon as a friend of the Duterte administration,” he added.
with CATHERINE S. VALENTE