Fresh start with new US envoy to Philippines?

Korean-American Sung Kim has been sworn in as Washington's new ambassador to Manila, in what is hoped will be a fresh start for the frayed relationship between the US and the Philippines' volatile, steadfastly anti-American leader Rodrigo Duterte.

The previous envoy, Mr Philip Goldberg, left after Mr Duterte had ridiculed him for being "gay". The two had clashed over a remark Mr Duterte made about an Australian missionary who was raped and murdered in the Philippines.

Speaking at Mr Kim's swearing-in ceremony in Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he remained confident about the future of Philippine-US relations "notwithstanding a difference here or there about one thing or another".

From 2008 to 2011, Mr Kim was special envoy for the Six-Party Talks - a multilateral effort to try to dismantle North Korea's nuclear programme. He was ambassador to South Korea from 2011 to 2014, and prior to his Manila assignment, he was deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs in the US State Department.

He was born in 1960 in South Korea. His family moved to the United States in 1973.

Mr Kim's first test will be trying to reopen Washington's lines of communication to Mr Duterte, who has rained an almost daily barrage of insults on the US. On Wednesday, he labelled as "monkeys" and "fools" US officials behind a decision to halt the planned sale of 26,000 rifles to the Philippine police force.

Mr Duterte's anti-American tirades stem largely from US criticisms over the thousands of extrajudicial killings by police and vigilantes that have blighted his anti- crime drive.

Mr Jose Antonio Custodio, a defence analyst, said the appointment of a new envoy does not mean the US will now go easy on Mr Duterte.

"American relations will be premised on human rights issues that Washington has with the Philippines. If Washington sees no compliance, then the frayed relations will remain and may even get worse," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2016, with the headline 'Fresh start with new US envoy to Philippines?'. Print Edition | Subscribe