It was a meeting between revered idol and gushing fan. It was the fulfillment of one's dream to finally meet the man he admires. And the characteristically reticent and tough idol surprisingly showed warmth and reciprocated the enthusiasm of his admirer. It was an unlikely friendship between the two leaders because traditionally their respective countries do not have close ties with one another. But the pivotal first meeting may yet signal a portent of things to come that may involve yet another powerful nation and its new leader.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines finally met Russia's leader President Vladimir Putin. Duterte, a maverick and tough talking leader both gaining world fame and notoriety for his controversial statements has long professed his admiration for Putin. The two leaders met at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (APEC) in Lima, Peru.
Duterte aired to his 'hero' Putin his grievances about the U.S. and Western countries for their bullying treatment of smaller allies like the Philippines and also hit the U.S. for its hypocrisy and its "propensity" to start wars. Duterte has also expressed his " longing" for his country to be closer to Europe, and to Russia in particular. He said the Cold War prevented the Philippines and Russia from forging closer ties. The Philippines has long been identified as a close ally of the U.S.
Putin appeared sympathetic with Duterte's gripes and promised closer relations between their two nations.
Putin has also extended an invitation for Duterte to visit Russia, and said that a special surprise awaits the Philippine leader once he reached Russia. Pressed by his country's media what the surprise is, Duterte said it's about guns as he and Putin have a common fondness for guns.
The Philippines has long been one of America's closest allies in Asia encompassing economic, security and social interests. The relations suffered a surprising snag when Duterte lashed out earlier this year at President Obama for criticizing him on his domestic war on drugs on the basis of human rights concerns. Since then, Duterte has been antagonistic towards Obama and the U.S. While on a state visit to China, Duterte even announced a " separation" from the U.S., even though the U.S. enjoys overwhelming support and admiration from the majority of the Filipino people according to global studies.
Duterte however was quick to congratulate President-Elect Donald Trump on his victory and even claimed that he shares similarities with the American new President including preference for straight talk. Duterte also promised to stop picking a fight with the U.S. since " Trump has won already", more than hinting his support for the Republican over Obama's ally, Hillary Clinton.
The U.S. and Russia's relations have reached monumental lows under President Obama's watch. Putin, however, was one of the first world leaders to warmly congratulate Trump on his election victory. He was also vocal in his enthusiasm that relations between Russia and the U.S. are bound to improve with Trump at the helm.
Trump, Putin and Duterte share some striking similarities as leaders- strong, tough, unorthodox, no-nonsense, unafraid to push for challenging reforms, talk straight and speak their mind, controversial, passionately nationalistic, put the interests of their own people first. Trump and Putin have already expressed mutual respect and admiration for each other, and with Duterte's unabashed admiration for Putin and his kind words for Trump, it is likely that Putin can bring him along for a potential alliance among the three leaders.
What Obama has miserably failed on with Russia, or caused conflict where there used to be so much harmony with the Philippines, with similar-minded leaders in Putin and Duterte, looks like Trump can turn the tide in U.S. diplomatic relations with important "must-be" allies, and win.