MANILA – The successive calls to President Rodrigo Duterte of the leaders of rivals United States and China, two of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, show how the Filipino leader has positioned himself as a key player in the region, Malacañang said Thursday.
"It indicates statesmanship, that he is actually a key player in maintaining peace in the region," Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
“It just goes to show the President is being recognized for his leadership in the area. The locals should also show a better appreciation of their President.”
According to Abella, it was Chinese President Xi Jinping who called Duterte on Wednesday to discuss pressing regional issues, especially the rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula.
Abella, however, clarified that Xi's call was not a response to an earlier call made by US President Donald Trump to Duterte which also touched on the tensions in North Korea, as well as the Filipino leader’s controversial war on drugs.
"This is all part of the context of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)," Abella said of Xi's phone call, referring to the 10-nation bloc which the Philippines currently chairs.
"This is not a direct response, a direct reaction to the call from another leader. It was a friendly assessment to the happenings in the region, especially after the ASEAN meetings."
Duterte has urged the US and other Asian powers to go easy on North Korea, which has rattled its neighbors, US allies Japan and South Korea, with its nuclear tests.
Duterte has said China plays an important role in lowering tensions between the US and North Korea, as Beijing is considered the closest and most powerful ally of Pyongyang.
The successive calls from the two most powerful leaders in the world have been seen as a testament to Duterte’s growing importance as a regional leader.
Since assuming presidency, Duterte has sought to improve Manila’s ties with Beijing which have been strained by the bitter South China Sea dispute.
Manila’s ties with Washington, on the other hand, deteriorated due to then-President Barack Obama’s criticisms of Duterte’s drug war. Trump’s election has been seen as a new chapter in the relations of the long-time Pacific allies.