US President Barack Obama cancelled a planned bilateral meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who threatened to swear at him if he raised concerns over extra-judicial killings, a spokesman for Obama said Tuesday.
Obama, who arrived in Laos Monday for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, will instead meet with South Korean President Park Geun Hye on Tuesday afternoon, National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price said.
Obama had said earlier he may cancel the bilateral meeting with Duterte after the Philippine leader issued expletive-laden remarks before departing for Vientiane.
“Son of a bitch, I will swear at you at that forum,” Duterte said, when asked how he would respond to questions about the spate of killings of suspected drug users and dealers under his administration.
He warned Obama and other foreign leaders not to question his deadly anti-drug campaign when they meet at the summit.
“You must be respectful,” Duterte said before flying to Vientiane, where he is to make his international debut at the ASEAN summit after becoming president in June.
Philippine Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said the meeting should not have been cancelled, as Duterte was merely stressing the need for the US to respect the country's independence.
"The president's message was we have our own territory here," he said. "Leave us to address our problems in our own way as we also don't interfere with your affairs."
"There really is no problem if we can just avoid these discussions," he added. "The US are our long-time ally."
Duterte's spokesmen declined to say how the cancellation could affect Duterte's international debut, adding that an official statement was still being drafted.
"This is something we have to deal with and we are still navigating the development," said one official who requested anonymity.
"Clearly he's a colourful guy," Obama told reporters in Hangzhou, China, after learning of the remarks, saying his aides were evaluating whether it would be "productive" for the two leaders to meet.
"We recognize the significant burden that the drug trade plays not just in the Philippines, but around the world and fighting narco-trafficking is tough," Obama said. "But we will always assert the need to have due process and to have that fight against drugs in a way that is consistent with international norms."
According to police statistics, 1,011 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed in police operations between July 1 and September 4. Police also recorded 1,391 deaths during the same period which are still being investigated.
Duterte had been scheduled to hold a one-on-one meeting with Obama on Tuesday after the start of the ASEAN leaders’ summit. He was also to meet with his counterparts from Russia, Australia, Japan, India, New Zealand, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam.
Last week, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama was “not going to pull any punches” on human rights when he meets with Duterte.
Duterte had said he did not want to pick a fight with Obama, but added: “Nobody but nobody should interfere. This is an independent country. Nobody has the right to lecture me... If you do that, we will end up insulting each other.”