President Trump called Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte and expressed his commitment to their alliance and in developing "a warm, working relationship," a Filipino official said Sunday. Presidential spokesman Ernie Abella said Trump mentioned he was looking forward to visiting the Philippines in November to attend an East Asia summit and that Trump invited Duterte to the White House, reports the AP. "The discussion ... was warm, with President Trump expressing his understanding and appreciation of the challenges facing the Philippine president, especially on the matter of dangerous drugs," Abella said. A White House statement described Saturday's call as "very friendly" and said the US-Philippine alliance "is now heading in a very positive direction." The remarks reflect a departure from Duterte's antagonistic stance toward former President Obama, whom he once told to "go to hell."
During Obama's final months in office, the Philippine president moved to build closer ties with China and Russia while threatening to end his nation's longstanding alliance with the US. On Sunday, three Chinese navy ships were welcomed in Davao city, Duterte's hometown, by his daughter, city Mayor Sarah Duterte. Abella said without elaborating that North Korea also came up in Trump's talk with Duterte. CNN notes that Duterte suggested earlier Saturday that the Trump administration should back away from standoff with North Korea to avoid risking a nuclear holocaust that could smother Asia. "It would be good for America to just restrain a little bit and if I were President Trump, I'll just back out, not really in surrender and retreat, but just to let the guy realize that, 'Ah, please do not do it.'" Duterte said. "It behooves America, who wields the biggest stick, just to really be prudent."