VIENTIANE: The Philippines scrambled to defuse a row with the United States on Tuesday and its new president, Rodrigo Duterte, voiced regret for calling President Barack Obama a “son of a b****”, comments that prompted Washington to call off a bilateral meeting.
The tiff between the two allies overshadowed the opening of a summit of East and Southeast Asian nations in Laos.
It also soured Obama’s last swing as president through a region he has tried to make a focus of U.S. foreign policy, a strategy widely seen as a response to China’s economic and military muscle-flexing.
He said in a speech as the summit got under way that his push to make the United States a key player in Asia-Pacific was not some “passing fad”.
However, diplomats say strains with longtime ally the Philippines could compound Washington’s difficulties in forging a united front with Southeast Asian partners on the geostrategic jostle with Beijing over the South China Sea.
Duterte has bristled repeatedly at criticism over his “war on drugs”, which has killed about 2,400 people since he took office two months ago, and on Monday said it would be “rude” for Obama to raise the question of human rights when they met.
Such a conversation, Duterte told reporters, would prompt him to curse at Obama, using a Filipino phrase “putang ina” which can mean “son of a b****” or “son of a w****”.
After Washington called off Tuesday’s bilateral meeting between Obama and Duterte in response, the Philippines issued two statements expressing regret.
“President Duterte explained that the press reports that President Obama would ‘lecture’ him on extrajudicial killings led to his strong comments, which in turn elicited concern,” the Philippines government said in one statement.
“He regrets that his remarks to the press have caused much controversy,” it added. “He expressed his deep regard and affinity for President Obama and for the enduring partnership between our nations.”
The White House had earlier said Obama would not pull any punches on his concerns about human rights abuses in the Philippines, its treaty ally, when meeting Duterte.
Instead of the Duterte meeting, Obama plans to hold talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, said Ned Price, spokesman for the White House National Security Council – a meeting where the response to North Korea’s latest missile tests is expected to be on the agenda.
A Philippines official who declined to be named said there would be no formal meeting rescheduled in Laos but a short ‘pull-aside’ conversation between the two presidents was still possible. – (Reuters)