The Duterte Invitation – U.S. President Donald Trump has invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House while he was making what was thought to be routine diplomatic calls to Southeast Asian leaders.
Following the conversation, the White House in a statement said the two leaders discussed the concerns of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regarding regional security, specifically the threat posed by North Korea.
The statement then added that Trump went on to invite his Philippine counterpart to Washington to continue the talks.
Human Rights groups have not taken likely to Trump’s Duterte invitation after he has been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings in his country. The invitation was also said to have caught the State Department off guard since Duterte has in the past used derogatory statements against a United States leader.
The Asia director of Human Rights Watch, John Sifton said:
“Celebrating a man who boasts of killing his own citizens and inviting him to the White House, while remaining silent on his disgusting human rights record, sends a terrifying message.”
“By effectively endorsing Duterte’s murderous ‘war on drugs’, Trump has made himself morally complicit in future killings, although the traits of his personality likely make it impossible. Trump should be ashamed of himself.”
Two senior U.S. officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council, both of which were not notified of the invitation, to raise objections internally.
The White House has, however, defended President Donald Trump’s invitation, saying Duterte’s cooperation was needed to counter North Korea regardless of the human rights criticism.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said:
“There is nothing right now facing this country and facing the region that is a bigger threat than what’s happening in North Korea.”
He insisted the opening of dialogue between the two nations “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 to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”
The Duterte invitation to the visit White House is the latest example of the affinity Trump has shown to some foreign leaders accused of human rights violations.
Trump has also invited Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former general who heads a military government that took power in a 2014 coup leading to a strained relationship with the Obama administration.