U.S. President Donald Trump said on Nov. 13 he had a “great relationship” with his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, while a White House official said human rights got only a brief mention when the two met on the sidelines of an Asian summit.
Their meeting was one of the most anticipated of the summit of East and Southeast Asian leaders in Manila, with human rights groups pressing Trump to take a tough line on Duterte over his bloody war on drugs, in which thousands of people have been killed.
“We are your ally. We are an important ally,” Duterte told Trump at the beginning of their talks, according to reporters allowed in to the meeting room.
Trump replied: “We’ve had a great relationship. This has been very successful. And the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) conference has been handled beautifully by the president in the Philippines.”
When a reporter asked Trump if he would raise human rights at the meeting, Duterte said: “Whoa, whoa. This is not a press statement. This is the bilateral meeting.”
A Philippines government spokesman later said human rights were not raised.
However, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the topic was mentioned briefly.
“The conversation focused on ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], illegal drugs, and trade. Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs.”
On the sidelines of the summit in Manila, Trump also met with prime minister of Japan and Australia and said discussions at the meeting would include tensions on the Korean Peninsula and trade.
In brief remarks prior to media being ushered out of the meeting, Australia’s Malcom Turnbull said North Korea’s “recklessness” needed to be stopped, while Japan’s Shinzo Abe said the most immediate challenge was to ensure regional peace and stability.