Trump skips Asean summit

Forging closer ties: A screencap showing O’Brien (centre) addressing the representatives of Asean member states during the virtual summit. — AFP

US President Donald Trump skipped a virtual summit with his South-East Asian counterparts, the third year in a row that the United States is being represented at a lower level.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien said Trump regretted that he was unable to attend the online summit with the 10 Asean members yesterday, but he stressed the importance of ties with the region.

“At this time of global crisis, the US-Asean strategic partnership has become even more important as we work together to combat the coronavirus, ” O’Brien said in

his remarks at the opening ceremony yesterday.The ceremony was livestreamed to Asean members watching from their respective countries.

Trump attended the Asean summit in 2017, but sent only representatives during the last two meetings.

A special summit with Asean that he was supposed to host in Las Vegas in March was called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trump is busy challenging the results of the Nov 3 presidential race won by Democrat Joe Biden, insisting that he was the victim of election fraud.

Most countries have acknowledged Biden’s victory.

The White House said in a statement that O’Brien would also represent the United States at an East Asia virtual summit with Asean as well as China, Japan and South Korea.

Despite Trump’s absence, it said Asean remained central to his vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

A massive free trade agreement is set to be inked today and will cover almost a third of the world economy, includes the Asean nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

In his remarks yesterday, O’Brien touted Asean as the fourth-largest trading partner for the United States.

Last year, trade between the United States and Asean reached over US$354bil (RM1.46 trillion).

“We deeply appreciate Asean partners’ efforts to keep the key supply chains open, factories operating, and PPE (personal protective equipment) flowing, ” he said.He noted that the US had contributed US$87mil (RM358.7mil) to combat the coronavirus in South-East Asia, including providing US-made ventilators and PPE.

“The United States has your back and we know you have ours, ” O’Brien added.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who attended the Asean-New Zealand Commemorative Summit yesterday, reiterated the importance of cooperation in terms of a range of shared challenges in the region.

She said Asean was the fourth-largest trading partner to New Zealand and a strategic hub connecting New Zealand to Asia and the rest of the world.

“Our partnership will play an important role as our countries work together to support global efforts to manage the pandemic and ensure fair and equitable access to safe vaccines, and drive economic recovery through maintaining open markets for our exporters and resilient supply chains, ” she said. — AP/Xinhua

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