MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday that his telephone conversation this week with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to discuss the Korean peninsula crisis was at the behest of his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump.
Duterte said he spoke with Xi on Wednesday to convince him to play a bigger role in defusing tension in the Korean peninsula after North Korea test fired another missile early on Saturday.
Duterte had discussed the North’s test with Trump later on Saturday, at the end of a summit in Manila of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which he is chairman this year.
“So, I called President Xi Jinping, ‘I am calling you at the behest of the president of the United States’,” he said in a speech in his hometown in Davao City.
“‘We have all agreed in the ASEAN, and even President Trump, that you can do something. Actually, the biggest contribution of all other is your intervention’,” he said, recalling the conversation.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang confirmed that it was Duterte who made the request for the call.
The United States has urged China, North Korea’s only major ally, to do more to rein in the North’s nuclear and missile programs, which have prompted an assertive response from the Trump administration, warning that an “era of strategic patience” is over.
“Definitely they are getting the help of everybody here,” Duterte said, referring to U.S. diplomatic efforts in Asia to contain North Korea.
Xi and Duterte spoke for about 26 minutes, a source at the president’s office told Reuters, and exchanged views about regional developments and how some concerns could be addressed.
Duterte said if asked by Trump, he would happily relay what was discussed with Xi.
The maverick and wildly outspoken Duterte has in the past week emerged as an unlikely collaborator in global efforts to prevent regional tension from escalating.
As ASEAN chairman, he said last week he would urge Trump not to be provoked by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, warning of a catastrophe if the situation intensified and that Kim “wants to end to the world”.
Trump and Xi have also formed a relationship lately that would have been unthinkable last year, when verbal attacks on China were central to the American billionaire’s election campaign.
But Trump has been criticized for going beyond the phone call and inviting Duterte to the White House.
Trump was condemned by human rights groups and some U.S. legislators for what they see as tantamount to an endorsement of Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, which has killed thousands of people since he took office 10 months ago.
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