Sat, Nov 02, 2019 - Page 1 News List

No Trump in Bangkok has Asia doubting US strategy

Bloomberg

A cosplayer dressed as Star Wars’ Darth Vader, left, and a Thai impersonator of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un welcome visitors to Bangkok yesterday in advance of Thailand’s hosting of the 35th ASEAN summit.

Photo: EPA-EFE

The administration of US President Donald Trump has stepped up efforts to contain China’s rise, warning Asia’s leaders against taking its cash and using its equipment for 5G networks, but when it comes to the region’s biggest summit, the US is happy to let Beijing take center stage.

Trump plans to skip the East Asia Summit for the third straight year and this time he is not even sending US Vice President Mike Pence or US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to replace him.

Instead, the US is to have its lowest-level representation at the meeting since then-US president Barack Obama joined the group in 2011, with new US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien leading the delegation to Bangkok.

“We accommodated China’s rise, in the hope that they would become more free. In response, the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] took advantage of our goodwill,” Pomepo tweeted late on Wednesday. “Now, @realDonaldTrump is facing the reality of CCP hostility to the US and our values. We must engage China as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

Beijing plans to send Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) — Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) No. 2 — as it does every year.

While the summits often achieve little in terms of substantive outcomes, they remain one of the few places where leaders can openly discuss thorny issues ranging from trade to terrorism and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

“In a region where just showing up has huge symbolism, the absence of Trump and Pence will no doubt raise renewed questions about how important Asia is in the US’ priorities,” Center for Strategic and International Studies senior associate Murray Hiebert said. “For the top echelons of the US foreign policy establishment not to show up would appear to hand China another opportunity to show that the US is distracted.”

Among the 40 agreements that are to be signed in Bangkok, the biggest one is not to include the US.

China, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 ASEAN members are close to a breakthrough on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would reduce tariffs in an area representing about one-third of the world’s economy.

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