Canada's Trudeau Plays Trump Foil With Criticism of Duterte

(Bloomberg) -- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau underscored the diverging political paths of the U.S. and its northern neighbor after raising human rights issues in a meeting with the Philippine president. 

Trudeau said after a closed-door meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte Tuesday in Manila that he raised concerns about extrajudicial killings and other alleged abuse associated with the Philippines’ drug war. The exchange came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump sidestepped the issue in his own talks with Duterte on the sidelines of a regional summit.

“I also mentioned human rights, the rule of law and specifically extrajudicial killings as being an issue that Canada is concerned with,” Trudeau told reporters in response to a question. “The president was receptive to my comments and it was throughout a very cordial and positive exchange.”

The remarks highlighted the opposing visions of the Liberal prime minister and his American counterpart, who have sparred over trade, immigration and climate policy. Trump has consistently praised Duterte and his campaign against drugs, despite international criticism over the thousands killed without charge or trial.

Trudeau’s comments risk angering his host, especially without a U.S. president leading the charge. The Philippine leader questioned his country’s security alliance with the U.S. and told former President Barack Obama he could “go to hell” after he called for the drug war to be fought “in a way that’s consistent with basic international norms.”

Duterte Briefing

Duterte spokesman Harry Roque declined to respond to Trudeau’s remarks, saying he didn’t hear the prime minister raise the issue during meetings with the president. “If he did, he did so privately,” Roque told reporters.

The Philippine president, who’s known for his freewheeling speaking style, will have a chance to respond personally at an 8 p.m. briefing to wrap up Association of Southeast Asian Nations events, which the Philippines hosted this year.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also told reporters Tuesday that she would raise human rights concerns during a meeting with Duterte scheduled for later in the day. “That number of deaths certainly requires investigations and oversight, at the very least,” Ardern said, according to a video posted on the Newshub site.

While Canada does little trade with the Philippines -- the two nations exchanged $1.5 billion in goods last year -- Trudeau was in Manila seeking expanded ties with Asean. Trudeau, the first Canadian prime minister to participate in the summit, also expressed concern about the military crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar, another of Asean’s 10 members.

On Monday, Trump hailed his “great relationship” with Duterte and called the regional meetings in Manila “very successful.” They both ignored shouted questions about alleged abuses carried out under the country’s drug war.

‘Important Ally’

Duterte again paid respect to a mutual defense treaty that has underpinned the U.S.’s Asia-Pacific strategy since World War II. “We are your ally,” he said to Trump. “We are an important ally.”

Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, told reporters that human rights came up briefly in the context of Duterte’s fight against illegal drugs, adding that the conversation also focused on the Islamic State and trade.

But Duterte’s spokesman disputed that account, adding that Trump “appeared sympathetic” when the Philippine president explained about the country’s drug problems during their 40-minute meeting.

In a joint statement issued hours after their meeting, Trump and Duterte committed to sharing best practices in the fight against illegal drugs. “The two sides underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda,” according to the statement.

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