Trump returns early as ASEAN wraps

Reuters, MANILA

Wed, Nov 15, 2017 - Page 1

US President Donald Trump yesterday skipped the plenary session of a summit of East and Southeast Asian leaders in Manila because of scheduling delays, but said his marathon trip to the region had been a success.

Trump left for home from the Philippines after a lunch with the other leaders, as meetings were running about two hours behind schedule.

He told reporters on Air Force One that he had delivered his prepared remarks during the lunch instead of the summit meeting.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would attend the plenary session in his place, a senior White House official said.

Trump said his trip had resulted in at least US$300 billion, possibly triple that figure, of deals being agreed. He did not elaborate.

Trade and concern about possible protectionism under Trump’s “America First” agenda have come up during his visit to the region, which included stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam before concluding in the Philippines.

Earlier in the day, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the plight of Rohingya refugees and extrajudicial killings in the Philippines at the summit, sensitive human rights issues skirted by almost all the others.

There was no pressure from Trump over the Philippines’ bloody war on drugs during a meeting on Monday with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of the summit.

A joint statement after the meeting said the two sides “underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programs.”

However, Trudeau said that during his conversation with Duterte, he “mentioned human rights, rule of law and specifically extrajudicial killings as being an issue that Canada is concerned with.”

“The president was receptive to my comments and it was throughout a very cordial and positive exchange,” Trudeau told a news conference.

Trudeau said he also met Burmese State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi and raised the plight of Rohingya refugees, although he did not mention the Muslim minority by name.

“This is a tremendous concern to Canada and to many, many countries around the world,” he said.

Some countries in the 10-member ASEAN, particularly Muslim-majority Malaysia, have voiced strong concern over the issue.

However, in keeping with ASEAN’s principle of non-interference in each others’ internal affairs, it appeared to have been put aside at the summit.