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On Final Stop Of Asia Trip, Trump To Meet With Controversial Philippine President Duterte


So let's go back overseas now to hear more about what else President Trump is doing. As we mentioned earlier, he is in the Philippines attending the first of two Southeast Asian summits. This is the final stop on what was already a lengthy trip, which the White House extended by one day so Trump could join other leaders at an East Asia strategic session in Manila. NPR's Scott Horsley has this report.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Trump began his day by presiding over the signing of commercial contracts in Vietnam. He and his Vietnamese counterpart watched as CEOs signed deals for aircraft engines, commercial trucks and a liquid natural gas terminal. Trump sees opportunities for additional sales to Vietnam of U.S. farm products and financial services.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We look to your growing middle class as a key market for American goods and services.

HORSLEY: Vietnam is one of the countries that was disappointed early this year when Trump dropped out of a big regional trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. Trump argues such deals have been economic losers in the past for the United States. He insists the U.S. can drive a harder bargain if it negotiates with countries one-on-one.


TRUMP: We look forward to achieving a bilateral trade agreement with partners who abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade. Two very important words - fair and reciprocal. It hasn't been that way for the United States almost at all, and we're changing that. And we're changing it rapidly.

HORSLEY: But no bilateral trade deals were announced on this trip. And the other countries that signed on to the TPP are not waiting around. At a summit meeting in Vietnam this weekend, trade ministers from 11 other countries said they'd agreed on core principles of their own trade deal - one that leaves the United States on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping is lobbying for what he calls a free-trade zone of the Pacific. Mireya Solis of the Brookings Institution says the combination paints a powerful picture of America's shrinking influence in the region.

MIREYA SOLIS: I think that the decision of President Trump to abandon TPP was a godsend to China. He basically allowed China to portray itself as the champion of multilateralism. But what is interesting is that this has actually motivated other countries in the region to step up. And this is what is driving the TPP relaunch.

HORSLEY: Back-to-back summit meetings in Manila give the White House another chance to show the U.S. wants to remain a player in the Asia-Pacific. Trump originally planned to skip the second meeting known as the East Asia Summit. But after facing criticism, he changed his mind and decided to stay. Trump will also be the first U.S. leader to meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Barack Obama famously canceled a meeting with Duterte after the Philippine leader crudely warned the former president not to criticize his human rights record. Amy Searight at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says that's not likely to be an issue for President Trump.

AMY SEARIGHT: The administration described President Trump's relationship with Duterte as very warm, which angered human rights groups that have been very concerned about the thousands of extra-judicial killings in the very brutal war on drugs that President Duterte launched when he came into office.

HORSLEY: National security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters if Trump does raise human rights concerns with Duterte, he'll do so quietly. McMaster added, how much does it help to yell about these problems? Scott Horsley, NPR News, traveling with the president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.