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**ch”, 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.
Philippines’ MOVES TO SOOTHE TENSIONS
Obama arrived in the city of Vientiane late on Monday for the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to Laos, where he wants to begin to address the legacy of U.S. bombing during the Vietnam War.
He announced on Tuesday that Washington would provide an additional $90 million over the next three years to help Laos, heavily bombed during the Vietnam War, clear unexploded ordnance, which has killed or wounded more than 20,000 people. The unusually open tensions between the United States and the Philippines, its former colony, threaten to overshadow the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia Summits in Laos from Tuesday to Thursday.
The 10-member ASEAN will also meet leaders of other regional powers: China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, Russia and the United States.Duterte won the presidency in May as he promised to suppress crime and wipe out drugs and drug dealers.