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4 Nov, 2019 10:05

Anyone here? Trump snubs ASEAN-US summit, 7 out of 10 leaders skip it in protest

Anyone here? Trump snubs ASEAN-US summit, 7 out of 10 leaders skip it in protest

By dispatching lower-ranked American officials to the ASEAN-US meeting instead of visiting it personally, President Donald Trump touched a nerve among Asian leaders who responded in kind.

Washington sent National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to this year’s high-level meeting in Bangkok, delivering a perceived snub to the leaders of Asian nations.The US delegation looked like a sore thumb in terms of ranks given that other world powers, including India, China, Japan, and Russia, were represented by their prime ministers.

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Apparently frustrated by the downgraded US participation, seven out of ten heads of Asian states didn’t show up, sending foreign ministers or other officials on their behalf.Only three prime ministers – Thailand’s Prayut Chan-o-cha, Vietnam’s Ngyuen Xuan Phuc, and Laos’ Thongloun Sisoulith – were in attendance.

It is unclear what was behind their appearance, a genuine desire to meet with O’Brien and Ross or considerations of formal protocol. Thailand is the host nation for this year’s ASEAN Summit while Vietnam will assume the chairmanship next year. Laos is the current country coordinator for ASEAN-US relations.


The snub, however, didn’t stop O’Brien from trying to insert the US narrative into ASEAN conversations; he blasted China for intimidating Asian neighbors and blocking access the region’s natural reserves.

Moving from fear mongering to promises, the national security advisor tried to assure the audience of the “rock solid American commitment in word and deed to our friends, allies, and partners” in Indo-Pacific.

He also quoted from Trump’s letter which invited ASEAN leaders to the US for a “special summit” next year. It remains to be seen how they will handle the invitation, given the kind of attention the US President is giving to engaging with the Asian partners.

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2019 is the second year in a row that Trump has skipped the ASEAN-US summit. Vice-President Mike Pence attended last year’s meeting in Singapore, which makes O’Brien the lowest-level official to lead the US delegation during Trump’s presidency.

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