MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The top U.S. diplomat shared a working lunch Wednesday with the new Philippine president, who has criticized U.S. security policies and publicly made friendly overtures to China.
President Rodrigo Duterte and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed a range of issues, including the South China Sea disputes, battling terrorism and personal interests like motorcycles and hunting, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
During the luncheon, Kerry congratulated Duterte for his election victory, which he said showed the strength and vibrancy of Filipino democracy, Kerry's deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.
Kerry offered $32 million in aid for law enforcement training, Abella said, adding that Duterte explained his ongoing campaign against illegal drugs.
Nearly 300 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed in reported gunbattles with police and in unexplained killings, alarming human rights watchdogs and Roman Catholic church officials.
Kerry pledged U.S. willingness to provide continued assistance to the Philippine government as it addressed drug trafficking and violent extremism, and to deepen and strengthen relations across the board, Toner said.
On the Philippines' territorial disputes with China, Duterte said his government would base any negotiations with Beijing on a landmark July 12 ruling by a tribunal in The Hague that invalidated China's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea under a 1982 international maritime treaty. China has rejected the ruling and said it should never be the basis of any talks with the Philippines.
"The president did mention that whatever talks he will engage will begin with the ruling, that will be the foundation," Abella said.
While both reaffirmed the close ties between the longtime allies, Abella told reporters Duterte also mentioned "how America and the other foreign colonial powers actually inflicted a lot of, you know, historical pain ... especially to the residents of Mindanao," referring to the southern region where the president had been a longtime city mayor.
Duterte has said he would be a leftist president who would chart a foreign policy not dependent on the United States, presenting a dilemma to Washington.
He has pointed out the benefits of nurturing friendly relations with Beijing, including a Chinese offer of financing railway projects in the Philippines. The country has had frosty ties with China under Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, who bolstered security ties with the U.S. to deter China's assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.
Early this month, Duterte blamed U.S. intervention for the bloody conflicts in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, saying in a speech to a Muslim community that America's intrusive policy was to blame for terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.