Manila: Donald Trump shook hands Monday with a smiling Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a man who boasts about personally killing people and who is waging a drug war that rights groups say involves mass murder.
The US leader is in Manila with leaders of 18 other nations for two days of summits, the final leg of a headline-grabbing Asian tour dominated by the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Allegations of Russian meddling in last year's US presidential elections have also hounded the second half of his 12-day trip, which took him from Japan to South Korea, China and Vietnam.
Rights groups have called on Trump to end his Asian journey with a strong statement against Duterte's drugs war, which has seen police and suspected vigilantes kill thousands of people.
But brief encounters between them in the lead-up to official talks scheduled for late Monday morning appeared to support Duterte's confidence that Trump was not concerned with the killings.
Trump shook hands with Duterte, then the pair chatted for about 30 seconds as the Philippine leader smiled broadly, before the opening ceremony for the first summit on Monday morning. Trump had his back to the cameras.
US President Donald Trump speaks with President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte as they participate in the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines November 13, 2017. — Reuters
The pair also sat next to each other at a pre-summit banquet on Sunday, during which they smiled, chatted and clinked champagne glasses.
Duterte, 72, sang a Filipino love song in front of his audience at the banquet, saying in a light-hearted fashion that he did so on the orders of the US president.
"I'm sure he will not take it up," Duterte said on Sunday when asked whether he expected Trump to raise the issue of alleged extra-judicial killings in the drugs war.
During a dinner in Manila, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte regaled the crowd by singing part of a Filipino love song 'Ikaw' (You), as President Donald Trump, clad in Filipino dress called 'Barong Tagalog', listened. — Youtube
Duterte won elections last year after promising to eradicate illegal drugs with an unprecedented campaign that would see up to 100,000 people killed.
Since he took office, police have reported killing 3,967 people in the crackdown.
Another 2,290 people have been murdered in drug-related crimes, while thousands of other deaths remain unsolved, according to government data.
Many Filipinos back Duterte, believing he is taking necessary measures to fight crime, but rights groups warn he may be orchestrating a crime against humanity.
Amnesty International accuses police of shooting dead defenceless people and paying assassins to murder addicts.
'I already killed someone'
When pressured over allegations of extra-judicial killings carried out by police, Duterte insists he has never told them to break the law.
But rights groups say police are following Duterte's incitements to kill, including comments made last year when he said he would be "happy to slaughter" three million addicts.
He has also repeatedly boasted about killing people himself, most recently on Thursday while in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific economic summit.
"At the age of 16, I already killed someone. A real person, a rumble, a stabbing. I was just 16 years old. It was just over a look," Duterte said.
Former US president Barack Obama was one of many prominent critics of Duterte's handling of the drugs war. The Philippine leader responded last year by calling Obama a "son of a whore".
But Trump has appeared to be a fan of Duterte, telling him in a telephone call in April that he was doing a "great job".
Duterte said on Sunday that Trump had offered him further "words of encouragement" during a brief chat in Vietnam the previous day on the sidelines of another regional summit.
Duterte is hosting the world leaders because the Philippines holds the rotating chair of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc.
The events on Monday and Tuesday in Manila are two separate ASEAN-hosted summits, which also include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The rising threat of the Daesh group across Southeast Asia, and further efforts to pressure North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to abandon his nuclear ambitions, were top agenda items in Manila.
"Terrorism and violent extremism endanger the peace, stability and security of our region because these threats know no boundaries," Duterte said in an opening ceremony speech on Monday.
What some Filipinos think of the Trump-Duterte meeting
President Donald Trump formally met his equally bombastic Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, on the sidelines of an international summit Monday in one of the most-anticipated moments in the US leader's first presidential trip to Asia.
Both have tested the bounds of statesmanship with their foul language, devil-may-care verbal harangues against enemies and strongman tendencies.
Both rose to power in an era of authoritarian, populist leaders, both have quarreled with the press and both have been condemned for making lewd remarks against women.
A sampling of what some Filipinos think of their meeting:
"These two presidents both have brusque personalities. They are both tactless but, most likely, they will not clash because the twine of their intestines are identical, they will probably have a meeting of minds and even exchange strategies in solving problems."
— Marius Daniel Garcia, a 34-year-old hotel guard in Manila.
"The entertainment value is huge but in terms of policy impact, I would have to say, minimal ... Trump doesn't have a clear Asia policy yet. It seems to be developing. Right now, they seem to be more concerned with just giving a reassurance to Asia that they are not leaving, that's all. But concrete initiatives, nothing."
— Jay Batongbacal, an associate law professor and director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the state-run University of the Philippines.
"They're of the same colour (laughs), they're both OK! They only have one color, one line of thinking. I think it's time that President Duterte came into our lives and Trump in America, and that they have one similar attitude. They might be crass when they talk but what they say has truth."
— Florentino Lucido as he took pictures of his wife in front of an ASEAN sign near the summit venue.
"No, of course when there are two toughies you always have this fear that there can be a confrontation, but they understand the same language, they have the same goals. In this case, both just like a better life for their people so, sometimes, two toughies become very close and end up as true friends."
— Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, when asked by reporters if "sparks" can be expected in the meeting of two leaders with very strong personalities.
"Both of them feel beseeched, both of them talk about destabilization, both of them talk about overturning existing order, both of them talk about their nation first. So, Duterte, in many ways, also talks about, you know, 'make Philippines great again'. So, in that sense, there's this sense of personal solidarity and Trump relates to people who are very much like him."
— Manila-based analyst Richard Heydarian.