Eight Asean heads will gather in Las Vegas on March 14 for a US-Asean summit seen by analysts as an olive branch from the United States after President Donald Trump skipped meetings two years in a row.
“The United States wants to reaffirm its commitment to the region, because they got some flak for that, ” one diplomat said.
While he made trips to Singapore and Vietnam to meet North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un, Trump has not met Asean leaders since the 2017 summit in Manila.
For the Thailand meetings, Trump was represented by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, a move which also raised eyebrows as he was not a Cabinet member.
But O’Brien handed each Asean leader an invitation from the Trump to a US-Asean summit in the first quarter of 2020.
Diplomatic sources said as of Friday, the only leaders absent would be Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed.
But both are expected to send representatives; in the case of the Philippines its foreign secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr, sources said.
It is yet unknown whether Myanmar would be represented by President Win Myint or State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
Subsequently, Indonesian President Joko Widodo will travel to Washington to visit the White House.
“For the US, the day-to-day focus has been dealing with China. Now they are at least trying to stay in the game of regional relationships, ” one diplomat said.
“The idea for Asean is to stay engaged with the US at a time when the region looks at the US as a big partner in the Indo-Pacific, ” he said.
“And the US also does remain engaged; South-East Asia is a central part of the Indo-Pacific; they can’t do without Asean.” — The Straits Times/ANN
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