Pentagon chief Ashton Carter on Friday criticized the “deeply troubling” remarks by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, in which he likened his deadly war on crime to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s efforts to exterminate Jews.
Duterte’s comments triggered shock and anger among Jewish groups in the United States, which could create pressure on the U.S. government to take a tougher line with the Philippines leader.
Carter’s comments came during a regional security summit with Southeast Asian ally nations, where he sought to reassure counterparts that Washington’s ongoing commitment to its Asia “rebalance” would continue into the next U.S. administration.
Earlier Friday, Duterte had made televised remarks drawing parallels between his campaign to wipe out his country’s drug problem and Hitler’s genocidal drive.
“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte told reporters in his home city of Davao.
“If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have …,” he said, pausing and pointing to himself. “You know my victims. I would like (them) to be all criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition.”
His spokesman stressed Saturday that Duterte does not want to be branded another Hitler but he is willing to kill three million people in his crime war.
“We do not wish to diminish the profound loss of six million Jews in the Holocaust,” Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
“The president’s reference to the slaughter was an oblique deflection of the way he has been pictured as a mass murderer, a Hitler, a label he rejects.”
Carter said Duterte’s remarks were not discussed at the summit.
But “speaking personally for myself, I find those comments deeply troubling,” he said.
The “informal” meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), held on Oahu in Hawaii, focused mainly on longer-standing regional issues such as continued unease over China’s growing reach across the South China Sea.
Another topic high on the agenda was the rise in ISIS-affiliated groups, especially in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as the return from Iraq and Syria of war-hardened jihadists.
“I was able to describe how the defeat of (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria would demonstrate that there is no state based upon (their) Ideology,” Carter said.
But that “I also expected to see real and attempted metastases to ASEAN nations.”
Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said the issue was a “core concern” among ASEAN members, and warned that ISIS and affiliated jihadists had grown better organized.
Over 1,000 Southeast Asians have flocked to join the terrorist organization’s self-declared “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, Ng said.
“Every year we meet, the situation and threat from extremist terrorism rises,” Ng said. “Compared to, say, a year or even two years ago, they’re more organized…they’re more networked, they’re more clear in their articulation of what they want to achieve.”
“If ISIS is diminished or dismembered in Iraq and Syria, in the short term we would actually suffer because they have more than 1,000 foreign fighters there. They will decide to come back — some energized, some trained and the networks will still be existing,” Ng said.
Authorities in Southeast Asia have been on heightened alert since ISIS claimed an attack in the Indonesian capital Jakarta in January in which eight people were killed, including four of the attackers.