MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Washington remains fully committed to Asia though President Donald Trump will miss a key East Asian summit when he visits the Philippines next month, the U.S. ambassador in Manila said Thursday.
Ambassador Sung Kim told reporters Trump is skipping the summit for scheduling reasons but will have a full range of meetings including a U.S. summit with 10 Southeast Asian leaders and a meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
The White House said Tuesday Trump will skip the East Asia Summit in the Philippines on Nov. 14. Another U.S. delegation that will attend the meeting, which will include more than a dozen Asian nations as well as Australia, New Zealand and Russia. The White House did not give a reason for Trump's absence.
"For very important reasons he needs to be back in Washington on the 14th so he will not be able to participate in the East Asia Summit," Kim said.
He said that analysts who say such an absence indicates Trump is not as interested in engaging Asia as former President Barack Obama was "are misguided."
"We have made very clear that the United States is fully committed to the Asia Pacific region," he added, saying that "it is in our interest to remain closely engaged in the Asia Pacific region."
The ambassador said Trump and Duterte are expected have an "open and frank" discussion on a full range of important issues but did not directly say if human rights concerns would be raised.
Duterte has been widely criticized by human rights advocates and Western governments for his war on drugs that has left thousands of mostly poor suspects dead. Trump has praised him for an "unbelievable job" in the fight against drugs during their phone call in April, according to a leaked transcript.
Kim said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior officials in Washington "have made it very clear that human rights, rule of law, due process, these are all very important principles and values of the United States."
"We will continue to work with our allies and friends to promote those values and principles," he said. "I don't think anything has changed."
The U.S. understands the seriousness of the Philippines' drug problem but it has conveyed to the Philippine leadership its concerns about how the anti-drug campaign has been implemented, he added.
"I think our concerns are understood by the Philippines government," Kim said.