Donald Trump has a notorious affinity for foreign strongmen. Now, he’s finally got a date in his calendar for a face-to-face with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the leader whose war on drugs has been so extreme and bloody that Human Rights Watch says it may represent a crime against humanity. In fact, one lawyer in the Philippines has already formally accused Duterte of such crimes.
Back in May, Duterte rebuffed Trump’s unexpected invitation to the White House, saying, “I am tied up,” and went on to suggest he had better places to be. “I cannot make any definite promise. I am supposed to go to Russia; I am supposed to go to Israel,” he said, according to AFP.
The meeting will take place Nov. 14 during Trump’s 12-day trip to Asia and Hawaii, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday in a statement. Trump is heading to the Philippine capital of Manila, where Duterte is hosting the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Trump hasn’t criticized the brutal crackdown, estimated to have killed 12,000 in the past 15 months. Indeed, if leaked transcripts are to be believed, he’s heaped praise on the drug campaign to Duterte over the phone.
In April, Trump told Duterte he’s doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem,” in a conversation later reported by the Washington Post.
The official White House readout of that call seemed to corroborate the Post’s account, saying the two leaders “discussed the fact that the Philippine government is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs, a scourge that affects many countries throughout the world. President Trump enjoyed the conversation.”
The U.S. and the Philippines have maintained a close political and military alliance for over 60 years. But under Duterte, the country has grown closer to China and Russia, which both recently donated thousands of assault rifles to support his fight against rebels linked to Islamic State.
Trump is also planning to hold bilateral talks with Japan’s Shinzo Abe, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, and China’s Xi Jinping during the trip.