US scales back presence at Asean meet in Thailand

  • Thailand
  • Thursday, 31 Oct 2019

Coming soon: Thai policemen walking past a banner promoting the Asean summit in Nonthaburi province. — AP

BANGKOK: US national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will represent President Donald Trump at two regional summits in Thailand this weekend, the White House announced, a move that would widely be viewed in the region as a snub.

The decision to send O’Brien, who is a presidential adviser and not a member of Trump’s Cabinet, is likely to be viewed in South-East Asia as sign of a lack of engagement in the region at a time when China’s influence and investments are quickly growing.

The announcement late on Tuesday comes just days before Thailand is due to host the 10-nation Association of South-East Asian Nations annual summit and the accompanying East Asia summit.

The summits include sideline meetings involving the US and other major countries such as China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

O’Brien recently took on his role after national security adviser John Bolton was ousted by President Donald Trump. He earlier was Trump’s chief hostage negotiator and is an established figure in Republican Party circles.

Ross is leading a Nov 3-8 trade delegation to Bangkok and will speak at an Indo-Pacific Business Forum on Monday.

Last year, Vice President Mike Pence attended the summits in place of Trump. Trump attended the summits in 2017 and President Barack Obama attended most of the summits during his time in office, though he sent Secretary of State John Kerry to the 2013 summit in Brunei.

Asean’s meetings focus on enhanced trade and security in a region of more than 630 million people. The grouping includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. — AP

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