Despite being away from the relative comfort of the daily Fox & Friends morning broadcast, President Trump managed to make headlines throughout his long trip abroad. In Vietnam, he apparently favored Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word at the expense of former U.S. intelligence agency heads and insulted North Korea’s Kim Jong-un on Twitter, just to name a few highlights. But the real fireworks came on Monday, when Trump and his entourage met with Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial president of the Philippines.
While most people became briefly infatuated with the pair’s awkward, viral handshake, members of the American press following Trump wondered whether or not the two discussed human rights. Between his past boasts about personally killing drug dealers and more recent threats to bomb tribal schools managed by agitators, Duterte doesn’t have the best track record on the subject. According to the White House, they “briefly” discussed matter while lavishing praise on one another in Manila. However, a spokesperson for Duterte’s government quickly poo-pooed the claim, saying “human rights did not arise” in conversation:
“The conversation focused on ISIS, illegal drugs and trade. Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque told CNN, however, that the topic “was not brought up,” adding that Duterte brought up the “drug menace” in the Philippines and that Trump “appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter but was merely nodding his head.”
The discrepancy between the two world leaders’ statements regarding human rights is distressing, especially since Trump broke with tradition during a joint appearance with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week. The pair gave remarks to the press in Tiananmen Square (of all places) on Thursday, but instead of subsequently taking questions from the press — and thereby exposing the Chinese president to American reporters — Trump refused questions altogether. As a result, reporters weren’t given the chance to ask about China’s problematic human rights record or the Trump administration’s response to it.
Even so, Duterte and his guest did agree on another equally distressing matter: their mutual disdain for the press. When reporters tried to ask questions during a photo op, the American president seemingly let his Filipino counterpart shut them down. “We are not answering, this is not a press statement. We are in a bilateral meeting,” said Duterte, adding: “We will be discussing matters that are of interest to both the Philippines and (the U.S.) [but not] with you around, guys, you are the spies.” According to White House Pool reporters on the scene, Duterte’s “spies” jab elicited laughter from Trump.