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The presidents of the Philippines and China are like "brothers", the Philippine trade secretary said Thursday, brushing aside signs that Rodrigo Duterte would take a more confrontational approach when the two leaders meet in Vietnam.

Speaking to the local Filipino community in the Vietnamese city of Danang on Thursday, Duterte also threatened to slap a United Nations rights rapporteur if he met her, and used obscene language to hit back at critics of his deadly drugs crackdown.

President Rodrigo Duterte skipped the gala dinner for heads of state attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam Sunday night. "Because you are insulting me".

"At the age of 16, I had already killed someone".

Claiming he was being serious, Duterte said: "Really, it's true".

"The most productive, by the way, was our talk with President Xi Jinping and President Putin", Duterte said in his arrival speech at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It was just over a look.

He has presided over a massive crackdown on crime in the Philippines, which critics allege undermines fundamental human rights.

More than 3,900 Filipinos have been killed in what the police called self-defense after armed suspects "resisted arrest" in Duterte's war on drugs. Thousands of other deaths remain unsolved, according to government data.

Mr Duterte, whose record in office earned him the nickname "Duterte Harry", remains popular with a majority of Filipinos. Duterte denies the allegations.

The firebrand leader consistently generates headlines for his abusive language and incendiary comments defending the drug war.

In a news conference after flying back here after midnight yesterday, Duterte said Xi assured him of China's peaceful intentions in the strategic waterway, where Beijing, the Philippines, Vietnam and three other governments have overlapping claims.

His spokesman later sought to clarify the remarks, saying those killings were during a "legitimate police action".

In a 2015 Esquire Philippines interview he said he stabbed someone to death when he was 17: "There was a tumultuous fight in the beach".

Duterte's aides have repeatedly told journalists not to believe everything the president says, cautioning that he often jokes or indulges in "hyperbole".

The group denounced Trump's attendance at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, which is being held on Monday in Manila.

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