When Donald met Dirty Harry
Donald Trump touched down in Manila yesterday ready to meet the man who many have said is his doppelganger in Asia.
Months before Trump was elected, Rodrigo Duterte proved the strength of anti-establishment populism in the Philippines by taking the presidency in a campaign filled with black-and-white promises to wipe out crime by killing drug pushers.
And when his administration did start killing hundreds of suspected drug pushers and alleged addicts, US-Philippine relations – historically one of the strongest alliances in Asia – plummeted. Last year, he expressed regret for calling Barack Obama a “son of a whore”. He had previously used the same insult to describe Pope Francis and local Bishops. He's allegedly told church officials "don't f..k with me!"
For Trump, however, the Philippines is bringing out the red carpet.
“President Trump will definitely receive a very warm welcome in Manila,” said the foreign affairs secretary, Alan Peter Cayetano, who added relations were on an “upward vector”.
While some have welcomed the burgeoning Duterte-Trump bromance as a much-needed respite for a troubled alliance, others have been critical of the US president's open embrace of strongmen like Duterte, writes Aljazeera.
Amid growing disagreements with traditional allies like Washington, Duterte adopted an "independent" foreign policy, which saw the Philippines drawing closer to China and Russia. In return, US' chief rivals offered state-of-the-art weapons and large-scale investment deals.
Within months, Duterte downgraded security ties with America, threatening to expel US soldiers stationed in the Philippines and cancelling major war games in the contested South China Sea. He also restricted US access to Philippine bases under the newly implemented Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
All of a sudden, the US seemed on the verge of losing its oldest ally in Asia, with China rapidly filling in the vacuum. The election of Trump, however, precipitated an unmistakable recovery in bilateral ties.
In particular, this was due to the Trump administration's explicit and conscious decision to prioritise strategic cooperation with Asian allies over promotion of human rights and democracy values. The Filipino president, who has consistently shunned criticising Trump, has been visibly pleased.
Although the two men have mutually admired each other in phone calls, “Duterte Harry” has already warned he will tell Mr Trump to “lay off” if he raises the issue of human rights during an Association of South East Asia Nations summit.
The world watches with baited breath for the outcome of these talks.