President Donald Trump was captured struggling to attempt the customary handshake at the Association of South East Nations summit in the Philippines this weekend.
Trump was seen with a pained grimace as he tried to join hands with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in the traditional “ASEAN-way handshake” intended to symbolize regional unity.
President Trump learns the traditional "ASEAN handshake" in Manila pic.twitter.com/Bii9oMfTdC
— Jonathan Ernst (@j_ernst_DC) November 13, 2017
Trump’s stop in the Philippines on his Asia trip has already drawn severe criticism as the president buddied up to a leader who brags about extrajudicial killings in his country, including ones he claims to have carried out himself.
According to a spokesman for Duterte, the issue of “human rights did not arise” during their meeting.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that they “briefly” touched on human rights.
“The conversation focused on ISIS, illegal drugs and trade. Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs,” she said.
But Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, insisted to CNN that human rights “was not brought up.”
“The issue of human rights did not arise. It was not brought up,” he said. “It was President Duterte who brought up with President Trump the drug menace in the Philippines, and the US president appeared sympathetic and did not have any official position on the matter but was merely nodding his head.”
Roque said the two bonded over their mutual dislike of President Obama, who harshly condemned the extrajudicial killings.
“It’s very apparent that both of them have a person who they consider as not their best friend,” he said. “They have similar feelings towards former US president Barack Obama.”
He added that Trump and Duterte are “very much alike in their thinking, their language and demeanor.”
We already know that Trump has previously praised Duterte’s efforts in his country’s drug war, which have included summarily executing people believed to be drug dealers or users.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte on a phone call earlier this year according to a transcript leaked to The Washington Post.
“Many countries have the problem [with drugs], we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that,” Trump said.
White House officials tried to downplay the call as not condoning violence at the time but human rights watchdogs warn this recent abdication of responsibility by the United States to condemn the executions were a win for Duterte.
“That gives Duterte’s craven spin-doctors wide latitude to deny that criticism even occurred,” Phelim Kine, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, told CNN.
“What is unquestionable here is that the US President has passed on a golden opportunity to publicly show solidarity with the Philippine people by expressing concern about those thousands of deaths and to reproach Duterte’s utter trashing of the concept of rule of law,” he added.