US President Donald Trump lands in Philippines, offers to mediate on South China Sea

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President Donald Trump leaves after attending services at St. John's Church in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. The president last week named today a National Day of Prayer for victims of Hurricane Harvey. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US President Donald Trump landed in the Philippines on Sunday for a summit of Southeast and East Asian nations, hours after offering to mediate competitive claims in the South China Sea that have long fueled tensions in the region. It will be the last leg of a marathon tour of Asia that, despite Trump’s “America First” policy, may reassure some that their administration remains committed to a region that Beijing considers its strategic domain. In Vietnam, on Sunday, Trump said he was prepared to mediate the dispute over the South China Sea, where four countries in Southeast Asia and Taiwan are challenging China’s radical claims on the troubled waterway. But the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, host of two days of summits that will bring together the nations of Southeast Asia and East Asia, said that the thorny issue was better left untouched.

All the plaintiffs will be at the summit, with the exception of Taiwan.

“We have to be friends, the other exalted ones want us to face China and the rest of the world on many issues,” Duterte said at a pre-summit business conference in Manila. “The South China Sea is better left untouched, no one can afford to go to war, you can not afford a violent confrontation.”

The United States and its former colony, the Philippines, have been strategic allies since World War II.

Trump is expected to try during the summit to strengthen relations, which have been strained by the notorious anti-US Duterte. sentiment and his enthusiasm for better ties with Russia and China.

Police used a water cannon to prevent hundreds of protesters from reaching the US embassy in Manila before Trump’s arrival.

With signs that read “Dump Trump” and “Down with US Imperialism,” the left-wing protesters were blocked by police with riot gear with shields and batons, and then showered with jets of water from a fire truck.

“Trump is the executive director of the US imperialist government,” said Alexis Danday, an 18-year-old student, after the protesters dispersed. “We know you are here to push unfair treaties between the Philippines and the United States.”