WHILE known for his anti-United States tirades and overseeing a foreign policy pivot away from US towards China, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has described himself as the “humble friend” of the US in Southeast Asia.
During a friendly meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum, Duterte said he was happy to see Tillerson and declared: “I am your humble friend in Southeast Asia.”
The maverick leader makes no attempt to hide his grudge against the US, which he has repeatedly chided for what he says is a history of hypocritical foreign policy, and for treating the Philippines like a dog.
“I am happy to see you … and you have come at a time when the world is not so good, especially in the Korean peninsula, and of course, the ever-nagging problem of South China Sea,” Duterte said to Tillerson on Monday.
“I know you’re worried there, because you also have domestic problems … We are friends. We are allies.”
Last year, he announced to China his “separation” from Washington, complained about being given “hand-me-down” US military hardware, and once invited American investors jittery about his remarks to pack their bags and leave.
But Duterte’s biggest anger was directed at former President Barack Obama, whose administration spoke out against his signature war on drugs, a fierce crackdown that has killed thousands of Filipinos.
Despite enduring disagreement over the South China Sea, Duterte has courted Beijing to encourage Chinese investment in the Philippines. China recently donated millions of dollars’ worth of arms to help the Philippines military’s fight against Islamic State militants in restive Mindanao.
Duterte also invited Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to the presidential palace on Monday, for meetings focused primarily on combatting terrorism.
“Mostly they have considerably toned down in human rights,” she said of Tillerson and Bishop at a press briefing after the meetings, as quoted by the state Philippine News Agency.
Additional reporting by Reuters