Incoming US ambassador in Manila has his work cut out dealing with Duterte
The veteran United States diplomat taking over as the country’s top envoy to the Philippines will have his work cut out in dealing with President Rodrigo Duterte, observers say, as the firebrand leader threatens to derail the two countries’ alliance with his coarse and anti-West rhetoric.
The US Senate on September 28 formalised Sung Kim’s appointment as the new ambassador to the Philippines, paving the way for the Seoul-born diplomat to take over from incumbent Philip Goldberg.
Political observers told the South China Morning Post the incoming envoy will need to display a unflappable style in dealing with the trash-talking president, who has ramped up his anti-US comments in recent weeks.
Observers say the tirades are in retaliation to Washington’s sustained condemnation of his controversial anti-crime drive that has claimed the lives of an estimated 3,000 suspected drug dealers and pushers in three months.
International rights groups have asked for an immediate halt to the killings which they say are extrajudicial and a violation of human rights.
“The new ambassador will have to be discreet, disarming and non-controversial,” said Ramon Casiple, the executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila.
“He will have his hands full balancing between strengthening ties with all sectors in government and key civil society institutions such as the churches and media, and sensitively dealing with a temperamental president,” Casiple said.
Kim is currently the US Special Representative for North Korea policy. He was the US ambassador to South Korea from 2011 to 2014 and worked as a public prosecutor before joining the State Department.
Richard Heydarian, political science professor at the Philippines’ De La Salle University, lauded Kim as a “highly experienced diplomat”.
“If he can handle the boiler room diplomacy with North Korea, dealing with Duterte at this juncture should not be insurmountable,” he said. Duterte, 71, drew a sharp rebuke from Washington in August after he said the incumbent US envoy was “gay”.
“As you know, I’m fighting with [US Secretary of State John Kerry’s] ambassador. His gay ambassador, the son of a whore. He pissed me off,” he was quoted as saying in a public tirade against Goldberg.
The two first clashed in April when the US diplomat criticised Duterte’s flippant comments during the campaign trail about the sexual assault and murder of an Australian missionary in 1989.
In his latest salvo against the West, Duterte said Obama can “go to hell” over his criticism on the ongoing war on drugs.
The European Union meanwhile “better choose purgatory, hell is filled up,” the Philippine leader told local officials and business executives on Tuesday.
In another speech on the same day, he said Washington’s refusal to sell weapons to the Philippines could prompt the long-time US treaty ally to lean towards China and Russia.
“Eventually, I might, in my time, I will break up with America. I would rather go to Russia and to China,” he said.