By Madeleine Hillyer, International News Editor
President Obama cancelled his most recent trip to the Philippines after inflammatory comments were made by Philippine President Rodrigo Dutarte. Dutarte swore while speaking about Mr. Obama and called him a derogatory name. The U.S. State Department has stated that the trip was cancelled because these remarks and other rhetoric from Dutarte made it doubtful talks between the two leaders would be productive. According to Reuters, State Department Deputy Spokesperson, Mark Toner, spoke on the matter saying, “Words matter, and we want to see an atmosphere that is cordial and open to strong cooperation.” Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also emphasized the need for the relationship between the two countries to be built on mutual respect. As reported in CNN, these derogatory comments were made during a press conference while Mr. Dutarte was emphasizing he would not be lectured by the president about extrajudicial killings that have been taking place in the country since Dutarte started his ‘war on drugs’ when he assumed office two months ago.
President Dutarte has since expressed remorse for these comments. According to BBC, Dutarte’s office released a statement saying, “While the immediate cause was my strong comments to certain press questions that elicited concern and distress, we also regret that it came across as a personal attack on the US president.”
While the trip and talks were cancelled the State Department has also said that these comments will not have a negative impact on diplomatic ties between the two countries in the future. The Philippines is one of the United States’ closest allies in the region. The two want to present a united front against China’s claims in the South China Sea. This has been a central part of both the US and the Philippines’ interests in the region. The Philippines has become one of the United States’ stronger allies on this issue since a successful international court case was brought against China by the Philippines this summer. The court ruled that according to international law China did not have sovereignty over the areas of the South China Sea they had claimed.
This most recent incident was not the first time the Filipino president has gotten into trouble for his rude and derogatory comments about world leaders. He recently was chastised for derogatory remarks he made against a US ambassador and comments involving the pope.
This trip was meant to be a part of President Obama’s new focus on Southeast Asia. The “pivot toward Asia” has been a policy of his administration for years now, but he has newly increased effort on focusing US military and diplomatic resources on the region. The president visited Laos and Korea after traveling to China for the G20 summit last week.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 13th print edition.
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