The president's 12-day trip through Asia is finally coming to a close. Following visits to Japan, South Korea, China, and Vietnam, Trump will end his trip in the Philippines, from where he'll fly home on Tuesday. But the trip is not likely to end quietly — many are already bracing themselves for Trump's bilateral meeting with Rodrigo Duterte, as the president is not expected to denounce the authoritarian leader's waging of a brutal drug war that has killed thousands of civilians.
In a report published by the AP today, a number of foreign policy experts said that Duterte's drug war "may well go unmentioned in public" by Trump, who tends to express a certain affinity for authoritarian leaders and strongmen like the Filipino president. Amy Searight, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the AP that human rights groups would likely "be quite disappointed by the visit," while White House advisers said there was a method behind Trump's strategy of remaining tight-lipped, insisting that the president could get more accomplished by expressing criticisms to such leaders behind closed doors.
The president already crossed paths with Duterte this past week, when both leaders attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit meeting. At this gathering, Duterte boasted of killing people from a young age, saying "At the age of 16, I already killed someone." While Duterte continues to defend his violent war on drugs in public forums, such comments do not phase Trump, who once told the Filipino leader that he was doing an "unbelievable job on the drug program."
Trump, who attended a gala alongside Duterte in Manila last night, has already been criticized for cozying up to a leader whom many see as a brutal dictator. At the gala, the counterparts sat next to one another, and Duterte even got up to perform a song "on the orders of the commander-in-chief of the United States," according to the BBC.
Jamil Smith of The LA Times wrote that the president was "elevating a murderous despot" by "merely meeting" with Duterte, but countered that this isn't the only questionable counterpart that he's cozied up to — one could see how Trump's behavior toward Russian President Vladimir Putin is comparable.
And Andrew Stroehlein, who is the European Media Director of the Human Rights Coalition, brought up the parallels between the two populist leaders in a tweet, writing that Duterte "brags about stabbing a person to death," while Trump "brags about his sexual assaults."
In an article for Al Jazeera, Richard Javad Heydarian expanded on these parallels when writing about the "budding bromance" between the two leaders:
It must be said that Trump and Duterte also share ideological affinity. They are both besieged populists, who present themselves as the true representative of "the people" against the liberal establishment.
But regardless of their supposed affinity for one another, the president's behavior on this trip has shown that he is wont to change positions quickly and often when it comes to foreign policy. Yesterday, Trump said he believed Putin's denial that Russia had meddled in the U.S. election. But by today, he had backtracked, insisting he trusts the intelligence agencies that concluded that the Russians did indeed interfere in the election.
From the series of tweets the president sent this morning, we do know he's not afraid to stand up to one authoritarian leader. Late last night, the president angrily tweeted that he would "NEVER" call North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "short and fat," despite the fact that Jong-un apparently had the nerve to call Trump, who is 71, "old."