News World Australian spy chief Nick Warner pictured with divisive Philippines president
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Australian spy chief Nick Warner pictured with divisive Philippines president

ASIS boss Tim Warner poses alongside Indonesian President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Twitter
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It’s not a photo you see every day — the strongman and the spy chief.

Nick Warner, the head of Australia’s international spy agency ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service), stands next to one of South-East Asia’s most controversial leaders, Rodrigo Duterte.

The Philippines President, whose war on drugs has claimed thousands of lives and drawn furious condemnation from human rights groups across the globe, raises his hand in his trademark clenched fist.

And so does Mr Warner.

View image on Twitter
Photos of the meeting were splashed across the Philippines’ press. Photo: Twitter
The two men met in the Malacañang Palace in Manila on Tuesday. A spokesman for Mr Duterte said the meeting was “basically a courtesy call” and the two men, “touched on regional security issues and declaration of mutual support”.

There would have been lots to discuss. The Philippines has been waging a furious campaign against Islamist militants in the city of Marawi. And Australia is increasingly worried about the flow of foreign fighters back into South-East Asia from wars in the Middle East.

Last week, Australia formally listed Islamic State in East Asia — which attempted to wrest control of Marawi from the Philippines Government — as a proscribed terrorist organisation.

It is also not unusual for Mr Warner to meet with foreign leaders, but most of those meetings would be held behind closed doors.

So the ASIS chief — and DFAT officials — might have been a little surprised to see the photos of Mr Warner posing with Mr Duterte splashed out in the local press.

Mr Warner is the only ASIS employee whose identity can be publicly revealed, but his daily call sheet is not exactly a public document.

And, as usual, the Australian Government did not breathe a word about Mr Warner’s most recent meeting.

Duterte’s behaviour of ‘deep concern’

The meeting also demonstrates how Australian officials are not letting their distaste for the President get in the way of day-to-day diplomacy.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has repeatedly criticised Mr Duterte, who has publicly declared he is happy to kill “millions” of drug addicts in his war against crime.

When Ms Bishop met Mr Duterte earlier this month, she pressed him on the widespread, extra-judicial killings in the Philippines, saying they were a “deep concern” to Australia.

And sitting next to Mr Warner in the meeting was Australia’s ambassador to the Philippines, Amanda Gorely.

Last year, the ambassador hit out at the notoriously foul-mouthed Mr Duterte when he joked about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary in the Philippines in 1989.

“Rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialised,” she tweeted.

But in diplomacy you don’t always get to choose the cards — or the kingpins — you are dealt.

– ABC