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US: Invitation to Philippine Leader Linked to Containing North Korea

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The United States is defending President Donald Trump’s decision to invite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House.

The two presidents spoke by telephone on Saturday. Trump noted the need to strengthen an Asian alliance against the growing threat from North Korea’s military.

He also spoke by phone on Sunday with Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The president also invited the two leaders to the White House.

A White House statement described the discussions between the Philippines and U.S. presidents as “very friendly.” Trump told Duterte that he was interested in developing a “warm, working relationship.'

However, on Sunday, Trump’s chief of staff Reince Prebus said on U.S. television that the phone call should not be seen as support of Duterte’s record in his war on drugs.

“It doesn’t mean that human rights don’t matter, but what it does mean is that the issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get.”

However, the White House statement about Trump’s call to Duterte did not note international condemnation of some of the Philippine leader’s policies.

Philippine leader has faced criticism on human rights

Rodrigo Duterte has been strongly criticized for his war on drug trafficking.

Last year, then-United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned Duterte’s support for extra-judicial killings. Philippine forces are accused of executing drug suspects before they can be tried.

Ban called the killings “a breach of fundamental human rights and freedoms.”

Some observers estimate that more than 6,000 people have been killed in Duerte’s war on drugs since he took office last year. About one-third of the deaths have resulted from police raids; the rest, by vigilantes.

Duterte, himself, told British media last year that he personally killed three suspects while he was mayor of the southern city of Davao.

Choi Kyung-jin, left, the widow of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo take their oaths at the start of the Philippine Senate probe of the killing.
Choi Kyung-jin, left, the widow of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo take their oaths at the start of the Philippine Senate probe of the killing.

Relations between the United States and the Philippines worsened last June after Duterte became president. The administration of then-president Barack Obama criticized the Philippines for a lack of respect for the rule of law in its campaign against drug dealers.

Gerard Finin is with the East-West Institute. He told VOA’s Victor Beattie that a meeting of Trump and Duerte could have good results.

Finin said that because the Philippines is a treaty partner with the United States, it is important to keep high-level communications open between the two sides.

He added that, until now, U.S. efforts to get the Philippines to respect the law in its anti-drug trafficking campaign have not succeeded. Finin said the administration will be able to give a message to the Philippine leader during talks at the White House.

Also, the invitation will give Duterte a chance to see how the United States deals with issues such as the illegal drug trade.

Finin noted that the Philippine ‘war on drugs’ appeared to ease in October after the death of a South Korean businessman at National Police Headquarters in Manila.

Since then, however, the violence has grown worse.

Much needs to be done, Finin said, before Philippine officials show a respect for human rights and people receive fair trials before they are punished.

Phone calls made as tensions in the area increase

Trump’s calls to the Asian leaders took place within days of another test of a missile by North Korea.

However, the U.S. effort to build support with Asian nations is considered part of an effort to increase pressure on the North Korean government.

North Korea has continued to test long-range missiles in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. The latest launch failed last weekend. North Korea also has carried out five nuclear tests.

On Monday, Trump said he is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un under the right conditions to discuss the North’s nuclear activities.

A White House spokesman said there is no Trump-Kim meeting planned. He added that such talks are possible only if North Korea ends its 'provocative' behavior.

A helicopter lands on the Izumo, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force's (JMSDF) helicopter carrier.
A helicopter lands on the Izumo, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force's (JMSDF) helicopter carrier.

The United States recently completed military exercises with South Korea. The U.S. government has ordered the deployment of an advanced anti-missile system to South Korea.

In addition, American warships, including the USS Carl Vinson and at least one nuclear submarine, have been sent to waters near the Korean peninsula.

Japan plans to send its helicopter carrier Izumo to guard a U.S. supply ship as it travels in the western Pacific Ocean. The move is believed to be the first time that Japanese forces have been ordered to protect U.S. ships. Japan’s constitution bars the nation from carrying out an offensive war.

I’m Mario Ritter.

And I'm Ashley Thompson.

Lou Lorscheider, Fern Robinson and Victor Beattie reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted their reports for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

breach – n. a failure to do something that is required by law or agreement

fundamental – adj. something very basic, very important

extra-judicial –adj. outside of the justice system

vigilante – n. a person who is not a law enforcement officer who acts like one and seeks to carry out justice

advanced – adj. at a high level, fully developed

provocative –adj. meant to cause a response

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