Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte joined in a performance of a Philippine love song during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gala on Sunday night, then claimed President Donald Trump “ordered” him to sing.
The Philippines currently holds the presidency of ASEAN and featured highlights of national food, culture, and tradition at its gala. Among the performances at the event was one by singer Pilita Corrales, who sang a song called “Ikaw” that she noted was among Duterte’s favorites.
Halfway through the performance, Duterte joined in, singing until the end of the song. Amid applause, Duterte explained why he had joined her.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I sang an invited duet with Ms. Pilita Corrales upon the orders of the Commander-in-chief of the United States,” he said, eliciting laughs.
Duterte and Trump appeared to get along well during their two interactions: meeting in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and, later, in Manila for ASEAN. Philippine Communications Secretary Martin Andanar told reporters they “really hit it off” during their dinner, and that Duterte’s administration was flattered that an “iconic figure” such as Trump went out of his way to show “he loves the Philippines.”
“We’ve had a great relationship. This has been very successful,” Trump told reporters during the trip, referring to his relationship with Duterte. The two leaders met independently on Sunday and reportedly discussed the war on illegal drug trafficking and the ongoing struggle to destroy the Islamic State terrorist group. The White House and Malacanang, the Philippine presidential palace, appeared to disagree on whether the two leaders discussed human rights concerns surrounding Duterte’s campaign against drug criminals.
In addition to Trump, other non-ASEAN member state leaders included Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and European Union President Donald Tusk.”
The Philippine Star notes that Duterte’s gala was rife with celebrations of national culture. “From the venue’s interior to the leaders and spouses’ national attires, to food, and cultural performances, the Philippine-hosted dinner displayed the rich and colorful Filipino culture and heritage,” the newspaper reported. Duterte hosted about 1,300 guests at the dinner, most of which wore traditional Philippine formal wear, including the barong tagalog, a formal shirt for men.
The gala followed a day of deliberations and meetings between heads of state largely regarding trade and regional security. High on the list of concerns is China’s illegal militarization of non-Chinese territory in the South China Sea. Many ASEAN member nations have seen Chinese military assets appear in their exclusive economic zones and nearby international waters, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.
President Trump offered himself as an impartial mediator during the conference before ASEAN, the APEC summit, between China and the aggrieved states. “If I can help mediate or arbitrate, please let me know … I am a very good mediator,” he told Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang.
Quang responded with a non-committal statement to “settle disputes in the South China Sea through peaceful negotiations” and “respect for diplomatic and legal process in accordance with international law.” The Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague ruled China’s presence in the disputed waters in question illegal in a 2016 verdict.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry appeared to reject the offer on Monday. “We hope countries outside the region can respect regional countries’ efforts to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea, and play a constructive role in this regard,” Geng Shuang, a ministry spokesman, told reporters.
China has repeatedly insisted on one-on-one negotiations with claimant nations in the region, as all are significantly smaller economically and militarily than China.