UNITED STATES President Donald Trump is slated to make his maiden official visit to the Philippines to attend the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit this November, says a Filipino official.
Responding to a question fielded by a reporter during a press conference on Wednesday, the Asean 2017 National Organizing Council director-general for operations Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr, said Trump had “verbally” confirmed his attendance for the summit.
“As of now, President Trump, for instance, when President Duterte called him up to congratulate him, had indicated he is coming in November. At least verbally, he said he is coming,” Paynor said, as quoted by Rappler.
The Asean summit in November would be the first time Trump would meet Duterte if he does not attend the Belt and Road Summit in China in May. While Duterte is scheduled to take part in the China summit, Trump has yet to confirm his attendance.
Duterte had called Trump to congratulate him on his victory in the US elections last year. Despite bilateral relations souring under former US president Barack Obama’s administration, Duterte and Trump showed signs of warm ties after Trump praised the controversial war on drugs in the Philippines.
Paynor said all leaders from Asean countries, US, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and dialogue partners, were expected to attend the November summit.
“Multilateral meetings of this sort, you usually expect 100 percent attendance. Many of the leaders who do not attend do so because of internal issues,” he said.
Duterte, who took office last June, has been hypersensitive to criticisms over his anti-drug fight, which has left thousands of drug users and pushers dead in the span of a few months, alarming the United Nations, the EU, the US and human rights watchdogs.
Criticisms by the Obama administration led to the uneasy relationship between Duterte and the US. In response, Duterte made several profanity-laced outbursts against Obama, his country’s long-standing ally.
“Instead of helping us, the first to criticise is this State Department, so you can go to hell, Mr. Obama, you can go to hell,” Duterte said during a speech last year.
The former Davao city mayor has also stated his intention to foster better ties with China and Russia, revamping the Philippine’s foreign policy that has long been pro-Washington.
Duterte also described Washington as an “unreliable ally”, saying Filipino forces have not benefited from joint combat exercises with US troops.
Obama called off what was meant to be his first meeting with Duterte after the latter reportedly cursed at him, and even described him in vulgar terms.
The outspoken Filipino politician warned Obama against raising the issue of human rights with him when the two met, saying: “Son of a bitch, I will swear at you”, but later apologised for the remark.
Duterte’s public animosity towards the US appears to have softened under Trump’s administration, with the firebrand leader praising the property-mogul president as a “realist” deep thinker over the weekend.
In a meeting with the Filipino community in Qatar on Saturday, Duterte also described Trump as a “pragmatic” thinker.
“Trump wouldn’t become a billionaire if he were stupid,” Duterte said.