SINGAPORE – When world leaders gather in this city and Papua New Guinea for regional summits this week there will…
SINGAPORE – When world leaders gather in this city and Papua New Guinea for regional summits this week there will be an eye-catching absence: President Trump.
It is peak season in Asia, with associations of Southeast Asian countries (ASEAN) meetings due to start Tuesday in Singapore. The 10-member block is host to world leaders at the annual East Asian Summit, a chance for regional leaders to strengthen the ties with global powers. Most will then travel to Papua New Guinea for meetings in Asia and Pacific (APEC), hosted this year by the poorest member of a 21
-country block of Pacific economies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting Singapore for the first time, meeting leader in a region increasingly looking for Moscow for arms purchases and diplomatic protection. China President Xi Jinping will be in Port Moresby for the APEC Summit this weekend, emphasizing Beijing’s strategic game in the South Pacific and will distribute Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang to Singapore to expand a free trade agreement with the city states and “upgrade its relationship” with Southeast Asian countries.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Moon Jae-in South Korea will also be at regional summits.
However, Trump jumps over them and leaves Vice President Pence and National Security Adviser John Bolton to lead the US delegation. Analysts see Trump’s absence as a lost opportunity and error calculation at a time when Washington and Beijing are locked in a battle of influence over a region that is China’s backyard.
The US President’s decision not to pop up is a “big problem with really poor optics,” says Brian Harding, deputy director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“Every country in Southeast Asia tries to create a close relationship with the United States – they do not want to live in a region dominated by China. They want alternatives, and they want balance,” he says. “It does not send a good signal [of U.S. commitment] that the president does not want to attend the summit he would have in Southeast Asia. “
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was the first US President to attend Asia to the East Asian Summit in 2011 and made the trip each year by its presidency, except during a government shutdown in 2013. The actors were part of a wider twist against Asia, a region where Obama believed that the United States could deepen deeper ties and find new allies.
Last year, Trump in Manila was attending meetings related to the regional block, but he left early and missed the summit itself.
US officials insist that Trump’s absence does not signal lack of focus on the region. Writing in Washington Post On the Friday before his trip, Pence said that the United States’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region was “firm and lasting” and he accused some nations of undermining a “foundation” of sovereignty and free commercial trade flows in the region – a thin-handed reference to China , which has demanded sovereignty for years and expanded its military presence in the South China Sea.
Beijing also sees Southeast Asia as the front and center of its Belt and Road Initiative, one billion dollars plus global investment plan as countries have begun to look like a debt trap that leaves them under China’s thumb.
In a statement, Vice President Press Secretary Alyssa Farah said that Pence is “honored to represent President Donald Trump” and the summits and will “mark US leadership in the region.”
“He will also deliver a message that authoritarianism, aggression and contradiction to other nations sovereignty of any nation in the Indo-Pacific will not be tolerated by the United States,” she added.
On a trip to Europe in recent days, Trump hit criticism for not showing a planned tour of an American military cemetery with reference to the weather. Analysts experienced the very journey as evidence of how isolated the United States under Trump has become from traditional European allies.
South East Asia, however, is a region where leaders have not specifically accused Trumps “America First” rhetoric, especially as many countries have moved closer to authoritarian rule under strong leaders. Countries here continue to clamor for greater US commitment and leadership and want an alternative to China’s investment in billion dollars, the recent Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, an Asian elder statesman, recently criticized as a “new version of colonialism.”
“The Trumps stock in Southeast Asia is not as low as you can imagine,” said CSIS Harding.
The Trump Administration recently announced a plan to support infrastructure development in the US, led by the private sector, but behind Analysts say the plan needs to be further developed, especially when Beijing completes billions of dollar infrastructure projects as a massive economic corridor in Myanmar and railways in the Philippines, a traditional American allied.
Southeast Asian countries – which together hold almost 10 percent of the world’s population , split between more powerful neighbors such as India, China, South Korea and Japan – have always felt vulnerable to their geography and are likely to welcome the contest of
But Dino Patti Djalal, a former Indonesian ambassador to Washington, said that regional leaders warns of a “zero sum of geopolitical rivalry” between the two forces and do not want to be forced to make a choice between the two.
“There is a strong appetite for economic brinkmanship from Washington,” he said, noting that the Trump administration’s “diplomatic and political capital” is “sinking” in the region. “I think we’ll see a greater polarization in the future.”