President-elect Donald Trump invited Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte to the White House next year during a “very engaging, animated” phone conversation, a Duterte aide said on Friday, amid rocky relations between their two countries.
A statement issued by Trump’s transition team, however, made no mention of an invitation.
Trump’s brief chat with the firebrand Philippine president follows a period of uncertainty about one of Washington’s most important Asian alliances, stoked by Duterte’s hostility towards President Barack Obama and repeated threats to sever decades-old defence ties.
The call lasted just over seven minutes, Duterte’s special adviser, Christopher Go, said in a text message to media, which gave few details.
Duterte congratulated the US president-elect, the Trump team’s statement said, and the two men “noted the long history of friendship and cooperation between the two nations, and agreed that the two governments would continue to work together closely on matters of shared interest and concern.”
In five months in office, Duterte has upended Philippine foreign policy by berating the United States, making overtures towards historic rival China and pursuing a new alliance with Russia.
His diplomacy has created jitters among Asian countries wary about Beijing’s rising influence and Washington’s staying power as a regional counterbalance.
Duterte has praised China and told Obama to “go to hell” and called him a “son of a bitch” whom he would humiliate if he visited the Philippines.
The anger was unleashed after Democrat Obama expressed concern about possible human rights abuses in Duterte’s war on drugs, during which more than 2,000 people have been killed.
Duterte initially expressed optimism about having Trump in the Oval Office, saying he no longer wanted quarrels. But he has continued to rail against US “hypocrisy” and “bullying”.
Republican Trump, a New York businessman who has never previously held public office, told Reuters during the election campaign that Duterte’s comments showed “a lack of respect for our country.” But he also stressed the “very important strategic location” of the Philippines and blamed Obama for failing to take the time to get to know world leaders.