President Donald Trump has invited President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to the White House in a move that has shocked both detractors and supporters who are wary of the associating the United States with the controversial leader.
Trump reportedly invited Duterte during a phone call on Saturday, which was described as a “friendly discussion” over regional and internal security issues. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the invitation was critical in leveraging relationships in Southeast Asia that could help reduce tensions with North Korea.
“The issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row,” Priebus said. “We have got to be on the same page.”
Duterte’s invitation was reportedly just one of many given to other Southeast Asian leaders, but the controversy surrounding Duterte and his violent war on drugs has drawn sharp criticism. Duterte has famously led a crackdown on drug dealers and users across the Philippines, with some estimates putting the body count over 7,000 since the war was launched last year. Duterte’s policies have given police significant leeway to execute his aggressive campaign to rid the Philippines’ of illegal drugs, which human rights advocacy groups have said amounts to state sponsored terror.