Trump lands in Philippines, offers to mediate on S.China Sea

MANILA, Nov 12 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump landed in the Philippines on Sunday for a summit of Southeast and East Asian nations, hours after offering to mediate on competing claims to the South China Sea that have long stoked tensions in the region.

It will be the last leg of a marathon Asia tour that, despite Trump's "America First" policy, may reassure some that his administration remains committed to a region that Beijing sees as its strategic domain.

In Vietnam earlier on Sunday, Trump said he was prepared to mediate in the dispute over the South China Sea, where four Southeast Asian countries and Taiwan contest China's sweeping claims to the busy waterway.

But Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, host of two days of summit meetings that will bring together Southeast Asian and East Asian nations, said the thorny issue was better left untouched. All the claimants will be at the summit, except for Taiwan.

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Everything you didn't know about Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte
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Everything you didn't know about Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte was born on March 28, 1945 in Maasin, Southern Leyte, Philippines.

(PHILIPPINES-DAVAO/MODEL REUTERS/Renato Lumawag)

Duterte became the mayor of Davao City in 1988, where he earned the nickname “The Punisher.” He served as mayor for 20 years, non-consecutively.

(PHILIPPINES-DAVAO/MODEL REUTERS/Renato Lumawag)

Duterte comes from a family of politicians. His father, Vicente Duterte, was the governor of unified Davao and a member of President Ferdinand Marcos' cabinet. His daughter, Sara Duterte, is currently the mayor of Davao City.

(REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

Rodrigo Duterte was elected the 16th president of the Philippines in May 2016.

(REUTERS/Czar Dancel)

Duterte once compared himself to Adolf Hitler, saying he would kill millions of drug addicts.

(REUTERS/Ezra Acayan)

Duterte has led a violent anti-drug crackdown, and more than 7,000 have reportedly been killed since he has taken office. 

(Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Duterte called President Barack Obama a “son of a wh**e.” He made the comments after Obama brought up concerns about human rights violations in 2016. Duterte later apologized for the comment.

(Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Weeks before being sworn in as president, Duterte fueled an already hostile environment for journalists when he said, "Just because you're a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you're a son of a b****." 

(REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

In 2015, Duterte vowed to execute 100,000 criminals and dump their bodies into Manila Bay. 

(REUTERS/Czar Dancel)

Duterte cursed Pope Francis over traffic that was generated by his visit. 

"We were affected by the traffic," Duterte said. "It took us five hours. I asked why, they said it was closed. I asked who is coming. They answered, the Pope. I wanted to call him: 'Pope, son of a wh**e, go home. Do not visit us again'."

He later apologized. 

(PHILIPPINES - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Duterte came under fire in April 2016 after he made a joke about a missionary who was gang raped and murdered during a prison riot in 1989. “But she was so beautiful,” Duterte said. “I thought the mayor should have been first.” 

(REUTERS/Harley Palangchao)

A witness testified in Sept. 2016, claiming he was a member of Duterte's alleged "Davao Death Squad," and that the Filipino president gave orders to kill drug dealers, drug users and others who may violate the law. 

(Photo credit should read Ezra Acayan / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

In December of 2016, Duterte said President Donald Trump endorses his violent and deadly campaign against drugs after a brief phone call. 

(REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

Congressman Gary Alejano filed an impeachment complaint against Duterte in March 2017, claiming he is guilty of crimes against humanity and murder.

(REUTERS/Erik De Castro TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

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"We have to be friends, the other hotheads would like us to confront China and the rest of the world on so many issues," Duterte said at a pre-summit business conference in Manila.

"The South China Sea is better left untouched, nobody can afford to go to war. It can ill-afford a violent confrontation."

The United States and its former colony, the Philippines, have been strategic allies since World War Two.

Trump is expected to try during the summit to shore up relations, which have been strained by the mercurial Duterte's notorious anti-U.S. sentiment and his enthusiasm for better ties with Russia and China.

Police used water canon to prevent hundreds of protesters reaching the U.S. embassy in Manila ahead of Trump's arrival.

Carrying placards declaring "Dump Trump" and "Down with U.S. Imperialism," the left-wing protesters were blocked by police in riot gear with shields and batons, and then showered with jets of water from a fire engine.

"Trump is the CEO of the imperialist government of the U.S., said 18-year-old student Alexis Danday after the protesters were scattered. "We know he is here to push for unfair treaties between the Philippines and the U.S."

TRUMP CALLS IT "INDO-PACIFIC"

On a tour that has taken him to Japan, South Korea, China and Vietnam, Trump and his team have repeatedly used the term "Indo-Pacific" instead of "Asia-Pacific" for the region, which some see as an effort to depict it as more than China-dominated.

Pacific Rim nation leaders agreed in Vietnam on Saturday to address "unfair trade practices" and "market distorting subsidies," a statement that bore the imprint of Trump's efforts to reshape the global trade landscape.

The summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries in Vietnam put on show the contrasting vision of the "America First" policy with the traditional consensus favoring multinational deals that China now seeks to champion.

Leaders at the Philippines summit will discuss the South China Sea, but mainly to agree on a procedural step to cool tensions.

In August, foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the resource-rich waterway, a move they hailed as progress but one seen by critics as a tactic to buy China time to consolidate its power.

The framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea. The DOC has mostly been ignored by claimant states, particularly China, which has built seven man-made islands in disputed waters, three of them equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.

The framework will be endorsed by China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Monday, a diplomat from one of the regional bloc's countries said.

Others who will be in Manila for the summit meetings include Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and leaders from Japan, Canada, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

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