US downgrades delegation to ASEAN summits

The US is downgrading its participation in two Asia-Pacific summits in Bangkok next week, a move sure to disappoint Asian partners worried by China’s expanding influence.

US President Donald Trump is expected to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Chile in November, but the most senior official from his administration, when Thailand hosts the annual East Asian Summit (EAS) and US-ASEAN Summit, will be Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, according to a White House statement.

Ross will lead the US delegation to an Indo-Pacific Business Forum comprising government officials and executives on the sidelines of the EAS. Trump has also named national security adviser Robert O’Brien as his special envoy to the summits.

David Stilwell, the State Department’s assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, will attend, but the US delegation will be outranked by regional players like Japan, India and China.

Despite declaring Indo-Pacific “the single most consequential region for America’s future” in a report earlier this year, the Trump administration has steadily shrunk US presence at EAS and ASEAN gatherings.

Although Trump attended the US-ASEAN summit in Manila in 2017, he’s never attended a full EAS meeting. Vice President Mike Pence represented the US at the meetings in Singapore last year. In contrast, Barack Obama attended every US-ASEAN and East Asia summit from 2011, except for 2013 when he canceled due to a US government shutdown.

Asian diplomats say the lack of top U.S. representation in Bangkok is a significant, if unsurprising disappointment, in a region increasingly worried about China’s growing influence.

Diplomats and analysts say Trump’s absence in Bangkok will raise questions about US commitment to the region, especially after his withdrawal from the 11 nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement in 2017, shortly after taking office. Last year, Trump, currently embroiled in an impeachment inquiry, sent his VP in his place to APEC as well as the ASEAN and the East Asia summits.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Jack Burton

Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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