The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said there are key reasons why Trump’s absence in the two regional summits – the EAS, a gathering of the leaders of 18 nations, including the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the US, in Singapore from Nov. 14-15, and the annual leaders’ meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) Papua New Guinea Nov. 17-18.
AP/Heng Sinith/File
‘Xi’s Philippine visit, EAS engagements to eclipse Pence’s presence’
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - November 12, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Philippines and his engagements during the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Singapore this week will overshadow the presence of United States President Donald Trump’s representative in the gathering of leaders in Southeast Asia and East Asia and underscore the skepticism in the region about the US’ “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy, according to a US think tank.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said there are key reasons why Trump’s absence in the two regional summits – the EAS, a gathering of the leaders of 18 nations, including the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the US, in Singapore from Nov. 14-15, and the annual leaders’ meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) Papua New Guinea Nov. 17-18.

Trump asked Vice President Mike Pence to travel to Asia this week to attend two annual regional summits in his place. Pence will first stop in Japan today until tomorrow for bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that will focus on North Korea and China, while largely steering clear of the bilateral trade issues that are currently a major part of the relationship.

Pence will then head to Singapore to attend the EAS. He will also convene a US-ASEAN summit with his 10 ASEAN counterparts. He will then travel to Papua New Guinea to attend the annual leaders’ meeting of the APEC.

Southeast Asia Program senior adviser and director Amy Searight, senior vice president and Asian economics senior adviser Matthew Goodman, and Scholl Chair in International Business William Reinsch at the CSIS in Washington, said discussion at the EAS on the South China Sea issues and regional free trade agreement known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will take place against the backdrop of growing regional concerns over intensifying US-China strategic rivalry and questions about US commitment to the region, particularly in terms of economic engagement in an era of Trump’s America First-ism.

They said Southeast Asian countries do not want to be forced to choose between the US and China but “they welcome US security presence as a balance against growing Chinese assertiveness but talk of a ‘new Cold War’ that emerged after Pence’s speech on China last month made many in the region very nervous.”

They said ASEAN leaders welcome China’s economic partnership through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative, even as concerns have risen in Malaysia and elsewhere about the way China uses economic inducements to gain political and strategic advantages over indebted countries. Trade and investment ties with the major economic powers also remain a top priority. – With Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla

EAST ASIA SUMMIT MIKE PENCE XI JINPING
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