CNN/RTVM
Now playing
02:11
Trump shows solidarity with Duterte
CNN
Now playing
01:39
Trump on North Korea: What he said in Asia
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk as they make their way to take the "family photo" during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017.
World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA        (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk as they make their way to take the "family photo" during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:00
Trump responds to Russia election meddling
Trump Putin Russian election meddling newday_00000000.jpg
Trump Putin Russian election meddling newday_00000000.jpg
Now playing
01:31
Trump: I believe Putin
President Donald Trump, left, and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang shakes hands at the Presidential Palace, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Hanoi, Vietnam. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Andrew Harnik/AP
President Donald Trump, left, and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang shakes hands at the Presidential Palace, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Hanoi, Vietnam. Trump is on a five country trip through Asia traveling to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Now playing
00:43
Vietnam responds to Trump's 'mediator' offer
President Trump attends the APEC gala dinner in Da Nang 7:50a: President Trump's scheduled arrival RX 763 SOURCE: HOST   8:00a: Dinner & Cultural Performance. Toast by Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang RX 763 SOURCE: HOST
HOST
President Trump attends the APEC gala dinner in Da Nang 7:50a: President Trump's scheduled arrival RX 763 SOURCE: HOST 8:00a: Dinner & Cultural Performance. Toast by Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang RX 763 SOURCE: HOST
Now playing
00:36
Watch Putin, Trump shake hands in Vietnam
US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) as they pose for a group photo ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit leaders gala dinner in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 10, 2017.
World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / Vietnam News Agency / STR        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
STR/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) as they pose for a group photo ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit leaders gala dinner in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 10, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / Vietnam News Agency / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:51
Trump, Putin chat at Asia summit
RX 763 -- Path 3/Trump/Da Nang/Vietnam/Pool
POOL
RX 763 -- Path 3/Trump/Da Nang/Vietnam/Pool
Now playing
01:18
Trump: US has not been treated fairly by WTO
north korea trump speech ripley_00005622.jpg
north korea trump speech ripley_00005622.jpg
Now playing
02:50
North Koreans react to Trump's speech
Now playing
01:05
Trump: Can't blame China for taking advantage
WASHINGTON, D.C. - AUGUST 14: (AFP-OUT) U.S. President Donald J. Trump holds a memorandum he just signed on addressing China's laws, policies, practices, and actions related to intellectual property, innovation, and technology at The White House on August 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
Pool/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, D.C. - AUGUST 14: (AFP-OUT) U.S. President Donald J. Trump holds a memorandum he just signed on addressing China's laws, policies, practices, and actions related to intellectual property, innovation, and technology at The White House on August 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:10
Trump vs China: Tensions over trade
trump china visit north korea sot_00000505.jpg
trump china visit north korea sot_00000505.jpg
Now playing
01:22
Trump: Mutual commitment to denuclearize NK
trump burger asia trip moos pkg_00014912.jpg
Much's Burger Shack
trump burger asia trip moos pkg_00014912.jpg
Now playing
01:56
Trump, Abe lunch starts hamburger craze
Now playing
00:24
Trump in South Korea: What's at stake?
Now playing
02:25
President Trump: N. Korea a worldwide threat
US President Donald Trump (C) feeds koi fish as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R)looks on during a welcoming ceremony in Tokyo on November 6, 2017.
Trump lashed out at the US trade relationship with Japan, saying it was "not fair and open", as he prepared for formal talks with his Japanese counterpart. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
JIM WATSON/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (C) feeds koi fish as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R)looks on during a welcoming ceremony in Tokyo on November 6, 2017. Trump lashed out at the US trade relationship with Japan, saying it was "not fair and open", as he prepared for formal talks with his Japanese counterpart. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:45
Trump, Abe feed koi fish in Japan

Story highlights

Trump will face a bombastic anti-American leader in the Philippines

Vietnam and the US are building an alliance years after the end of the Vietnam War

(CNN) —  

US President Donald Trump may have left China for the final leg of his Asia tour, but the specter of Beijing will loom large over his discussions with Southeast Asian nations on the issues dominating the region.

At the core of much of what Trump will do, and what those nations hope he will accomplish during his visit, will depend on America’s ability to counter China’s growth and its ambitions.

China’s used development aid, closer diplomatic ties with nations like the Philippines, and its military expansiveness to spread its footprint in the region. How Trump decides to respond to this will be evidenced during a series of key meetings.

On Friday, Trump will come face-to-face with the outwardly anti-American president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte at the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam. The US president will then participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting, before delivering a speech at the APEC CEO Summit, the White House has said.

On Saturday, he will travel to Hanoi for an official visit and bilateral meetings with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and other senior Vietnamese officials.

’America has lost now’

Being an American ally has been in the DNA of the Philippines for decades, says Alexander Neill, a Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore. The former American colony is the oldest partner the United States has had in the region, but it is a tumultuous history the two nations share, with political, defense and economic challenges that have at times caused friction that has brought them to the brink of diplomatic divorce.

“It’s a relationship that, if handled in the right way, could be promising,” Neill told CNN. “As a businessman, Trump is going to be wanting to convince the Philippines of the risks of putting too many eggs in the Chinese basket.”

04:13 - Source: CNN
Philippines' Duterte pivots towards China

It was this time last year that Philippines’ Duterte announced in Beijing that “America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow.” He told his Chinese hosts that he may also “go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

Duterte, known for speaking brashly later backtracked on his comments, insisting what he’d referred to in Beijing was not “a severance of ties,” and that he wasn’t cutting diplomatic relations. “What I was really saying,” he told reporters, “was a separation of foreign policy.”

Whether this so-called “separation” bears out will likely depend on Duterte and Trump’s personal relationship. Duterte, whose savage dislike of former President Barack Obama was well known, has promised to “deal with President Trump in the most righteous way,” when the two meet in Manila. Though he has also said he will “listen to him, what he has to say.”

Trump has invited Duterte to the White House
Getty Images
Trump has invited Duterte to the White House

That the two leaders are personalities are essentially confrontational, and in that respect similar, may in fact bode well, said Neil.

“If you’re going to do a character analysis Trump and Duterte are a perfect match,” said Neil. “These two guys see eye to eye and I think there’s evidence to suggest that all of this animosity and rhetoric between the US and the Philippines has died down quite considerably.”

Trump, in a phone call to the Philippines leader in May, told Duterte he was doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem,” referring to the 14-month long crackdown on the drug trade in the Philippines which human rights groups claim thousands of people have been killed, many without due process. Duterte has rejected international criticism of the campaign.

Duterte’s anti-American feelings

But it is also possible that the two leaders’ personal dynamic could become damaging, says Aaron Connelly from the Lowy Institute.

“Duterte is a lot like Trump, he’s sort of an unpredictable character and clearly the leaders who work best with Trump are the ones who are sort of willing to bury their ego and do things that appeal to Trump’s ego,” Connelly said. As examples, he pointed to French President Emmanuel Macron’s hosting Trump during Bastille Day celebrations, or Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s gifting of a golden golf club that helped mollify the American president.

Duterte may not be able to overcome his animosity towards the United States, Connelly said. “He’s the first Philippines president from Mindanao and he brings with him all the baggage that involves,” he said.

“He grew up with his grandmother telling him stories of American atrocities on Moro during the colonial period. One of Duterte’s grandparents was Muslim and some of his grandchildren are Muslim, and he regards himself as half Muslim because he’s half-Moro, so he has some real anti-American feelings and he’s very loathe to acknowledge any of the assistance the US has provided in Marawi,” added Connelly, referring to the embattled city where US forces have helped Philippine security forces battle ISIS fighters.

And he has turned to China most effusively, joining the One Belt, One Road trade and investment initiative Beijing launched earlier this year, which offers billions in funding to developing countries. He has also reportedly muted his opposition of China’s claims in the disputed South China Sea, even as the US beefs up its maritime presence in the region.

Vietnam’s pivot to the West

In contrast, Vietnam, which since the Clinton administration has been the subject of back-and-forth diplomacy, is now viewed as a key partner for Washington and worthy of a more sustained relationship.

President Bill Clinton’s visit to Hanoi was the first by a sitting US president since the end of the Vietnam War. It paved the way for a meeting in 2015 between President Obama and the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong. The meeting violated protocol, the Atlantic reported, because the general secretary was not a head of state. “But the goals trumped decorum: Obama wanted to lobby the Vietnamese on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – his negotiators soon extracted a promise from the Vietnamese that they would legalize independent labor unions – and he wanted to deepen cooperation on strategic issues.”

The Obama administration officials also reportedly said that Vietnam would “one day soon host a permanent US military presence to check the ambitions of the country it now fears most, China.”

01:47 - Source: CNN
US destroyer sails near China-claimed island

Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal but military cooperation with Hanoi continues. Defense Secretary James Mattis told his Vietnamese counterparts in August to expect a visit from a US aircraft carrier next year, the first such visit since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

Vietnam’s growing closeness to the United States is an increasing irritant to China, says Connelly.

“For the Vietnamese, the threat has always come from the north. They would say ‘we’ve been aggressively visited by many great powers over the course of our history, whether it’s the French or the US, but the longterm strategic concern has always been China,’” he said.

These concerns are underscored by the two countries’ ongoing dispute over islands in the South China Sea. China’s claims to the South China Sea stretch roughly 1,000 miles from its southern shores, and include energy rich areas also claimed by Vietnam.

In July of this year, Vietnam suspended oil drilling in contested waters in the South China Sea, after alleged threats from China.

“Over the course of a millennia they (the Vietnamese) were able to maintain their independence from China throughout that period, and they’re incredibly proud of that,” added Connelly. “For them, having partners like the US to help them build up their maritime abilities and to continue to make sure the US is engaged in the region is really important.”

An opportunity for Trump to exploit

During the Vietnamese prime minister’s visit to the White House in May, the two countries signed $8 billion worth of commercial deals and discussed the transfer of a decommissioned US Coast Guard cutter to the Vietnamese coast guard which is designed to patrol coastal waters. The US has also transferred six patrol boats to Vietnam.

Washington has relaxed its arms embargo against Hanoi and its solidifying relationship with the Vietnamese stands in marked contrast to Hanoi’s seemingly deteriorating one with Beijing.

In June representatives from Vietnam and China met in Hanoi, but the gathering finished early when Chinese officials broke off the summit reportedly over Vietnam’s outreach to Japan and the US, as well as its objections to China’s continued buildup of disputed islands in the South China Sea.

“The Sino-Vietnamese relationship is quite fraught in many ways, but that said, I think the business community and potential investors and cross-border trade, it’s a huge relationship there,” said Alexander Neill.

“China’s economic weight is on Vietnam’s doorstep, but the military to military relationship is not good at the moment. If the US decides to exploit that to some degree it will serve as an irritant to President Xi Jinping and the People’s Liberation Army.”