The first time is always special, and things will be no different this week when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte meets his US counterpart Donald Trump during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit.
Duterte and Trump are set to break bread in Hanoi at a welcome dinner tomorrow. The two leaders have already had at least two phone conversations – in December 2016 and last April.
Duterte and Trump’s meeting will come just a few weeks after the Philippine leader said he was now on friendlier terms with America, who had “redeemed themselves” a lot. Relations between the old allies had earlier been chilled when Duterte accused president Barack Obama of hypocrisy and bullying over US criticism of his brutal campaign against illegal drugs.
Trump has chosen to take a different tack, even praising Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem”. The two countries also have a common enemy in Islamic State, an affiliate of which Philippine troops only recently ousted from the southern city of Marawi after a five-month battle. I also hope President Duterte will take this opportunity to raise the issue of the South China Sea territory dispute with Trump, though in a careful way that does not trigger Chinese fear over a united Washington-Manila threat. After attending the Apec summit, Trump is scheduled to visit the Philippines on November 12 to 14 for the Asean Summit in Manila. This latest round of US-Philippine contact should seal a new direction for our relationship. No more harsh words but, instead, strategic cooperation for mutually beneficial goals in a fast-changing Asia.
Jumel G Estrañero