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President Trump Meets With Duterte On Last Leg Of Asia Tour


At an Asian summit meeting in the Philippines today, President Trump met with leaders of India, Japan, Australia. These are three pillars of democracy in what the White House is calling the Indo-Pacific region. Now, Trump also met with controversial Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, who is hosting the summit, and NPR's Scott Horsley joins us from Manila. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, David.

GREENE: So we should say, Duterte has drawn a lot of scrutiny from around the world, especially from human rights advocates. I mean, a brutal crackdown on drug trafficking in the Philippines where you are. Did President Trump address that at all?

HORSLEY: Not publicly. The White House had told us in advance that if Trump was going to raise the human rights issue, he would do so privately. His press secretary says Trump did raise it privately. But in public, the president had only praise for the Philippine leader. The White House says the two men have a warm, personal rapport, and that was evident when Trump repeatedly called Duterte by his first name, Rodrigo. At their meeting, the two leaders did not take questions from reporters. But Duterte spoke during the summit about the common challenges facing leaders in this part of the world, including, he said, terrorism and drug trafficking. Those are threats, Duterte said, that know no boundaries.

GREENE: Well, what about the threat from North Korea? I mean, that's dominated so much of this trip. Is that still the case?

HORSLEY: That has been a major topic for President Trump, and it was a major topic when he met with Malcolm Turnbull of Australia and Shinzo Abe of Japan. And Turnbull says they want to ensure North Korea's Kim Jong Un comes to his senses and stops what Turnbull called his reckless provocation.


MALCOLM TURNBULL: Peace and stability have underpinned the prosperity of billions of people over many decades, and we're going to work together to ensure we maintain it.

GREENE: It sounds like the kind of partnership and alliance that President Trump is looking for as he confronts Pyongyang.

HORSLEY: That's right. And as you noted, Japan, Australia, India, these are all sort of the cornerstones of this Indo-Pacific picture that Trump is trying to paint on this trip.

GREENE: And, Scott, I guess it has seemed like the elephant in the room on this trip has been President Trump getting the United States out of that big Pacific trade deal when he first came into office. I mean, how has he been handling that balance, trying to send a message of we want to work with you but, hey, there was that trade deal?

HORSLEY: Trump insists that he has made a lot of progress on trade during this trip, but he has not offered any details. He says he's going to fill us in when he gets back to the United States. Of course, Trump has said in the past that the U.S. has been taken advantage of by a lot of fast growing economies in Asia.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We've made a lot of big progress on trade. We have deficits with almost everybody. Those deficits are going to be cut very quickly and very substantially.

TURNBULL: Except us. Except with us.


TRUMP: You're the only one.


TRUMP: But if I check it, I'll probably find out that was...

TURNBULL: Oh, no. No, it's real. It's real, Donald.

HORSLEY: You can hear Prime Minister Turnbull there chiming in, correcting President Trump that the U.S. in fact had a $12.6 billion trade surplus with Australia last year.

GREENE: Fact-checking while standing with another world leader. Let me just ask you about President Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin. They had these informal conversations, Trump comes out talking about whether or not he believes the Russians interfered in the presidential election. Sounds like an evolving message.

HORSLEY: Trump said that Vladimir Putin told him once again that Russia had not interfered. And Trump said that when Putin says that, he believes that Putin believes it. But when pressed by reporters, Trump later said he goes along with the U.S. intelligence community, which of course says Russia did put its thumb on the scale - and moreover that Russia did so to help Donald Trump.

GREENE: NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with President Trump in Asia. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David. 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.