In global politics, Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump may find that like attracts like
Peter Kammerer says given the brash, uncompromising style of leadership both demonstrate, it will be a worry if they ever get cosy with China and North Korea
The world’s gone crazy. Here’s the proof: China says it’s looking forward to working with the Philippines’ incoming leader, Rodrigo Duterte, and North Korea has praised US presidential candidate Donald Trump for his wisdom on a propaganda website. The stuff that spews from the mouths of these men is never statesmanlike. To be eager to strike deals with them shows a lack of understanding of how democracies function.
North Korea’s leaders are as maverick as Trump, so it’s understandable that Pyongyang has an attraction to his loose-cannon rhetoric. Just how much they agree with his crudity, racism, sexism and misogynism cannot be said, but it must be remembered that the North has for seven decades been largely isolated from the wider world. The main attraction appears to be Trump’s stated willingness, should he become president, to talk to leader Kim Jong-un to prevent a nuclear conflict. President Barack Obama’s administration has repeatedly refused to do that, contending Pyongyang has to first scrap its atomic arsenal.
China at least understands Trump’s unworthiness to be a national leader. The state-run media has referred to him as a clown, compared him to Germany’s wartime dictator Adolf Hitler and placed him squarely among the hated ranks of the privileged class. It hasn’t helped that he has made a litany of anti-Chinese remarks while campaigning, most controversially contending that “we can’t continue to allow China to rape our country” through trade deficits.
Duterte, who takes office at the end of the month, is frequently referred to as the Asian Trump. He was elected for his track record of cleaning up the southern city of Davao while its mayor; it is a place unlike others in the Philippines, renowned for its pristine and orderly streets, low crime rate, ban on smoking in public places and honest taxi drivers. Trump has not been as specific when laying out his platform, although he has made equally controversial suggestions, claiming he would build a wall to keep out illegal Mexican immigrants and bar Muslims. The comparison between the two is most made when it comes to off-the-cuff remarks and on that score, Duterte is the hands-down winner. He has even less regard for women, journalists, the establishment and the political system, having spoken approvingly of rape, extrajudicial killings and bypassing the legislative process.
China should know better than to entertain such behaviour. President Xi Jinping (習近平) congratulated the president-elect last Monday after official confirmation of his election win, with wishes for healthy bilateral ties. Duterte has won Beijing over by suggesting he would be willing to turn to bilateral negotiations to settle his country’s dispute over the South China Sea. That is the reverse position of outgoing leader Benigno Aquino, who has driven Sino-Philippine relations to lows by insisting on settling the matter through an international arbitration tribunal.
Trump and Duterte have some of the qualities of good leaders: charisma, a willingness to make difficult decisions, the courage to say what they believe needs to be said, and the ability to listen to the common people. But they also lack the vital characteristics of strong moral principles, good interpersonal skills and a capacity to compromise. Some of those pluses and minuses appear, coincidentally, to be similar to the strengths and weaknesses of the leadership of China and North Korea. While particular issues may be advantaged by such a relationship, association can only be viewed negatively on the world stage.
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post