World

Trump to miss East Asia Summit: Manila

Pundits say his absence could raise doubts about America's credibility

Manila has confirmed that US President Donald Trump will attend a meeting with Asean leaders in the Philippines next month and celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the regional grouping, but he will likely miss a key meeting between Asean and eight of its partners.

"The decision was really that he will be here on the 12th and the 13th (of November).

"If the EAS (East Asia Summit) will push through on the 14th, he cannot extend another day because he has a long trip," Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano told reporters yesterday.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Marciano Paynor, head of the Asean summit organising group, told a news forum that while nothing yet was set in stone, the EAS was due to take place on Nov 14.

He said the US requested that the summit be held earlier so that Mr Trump could attend, but that meant consulting with 16 other leaders.

The latest advice from Washington was that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would attend in place of Mr Trump if the EAS pushed through to Nov 14, said Mr Paynor.

The Washington Post had on Tuesday quoted a National Security Council spokesman as saying that Mr Trump would be in the Philippines on Nov 12 and 13, but "will not travel the additional 52 miles (80km) to the Filipino city of Angeles on Nov 14 for the East Asia Summit".

The Philippines said yesterday that the EAS would be held in Manila, not Angeles.

The meeting - the region's premier strategic forum - gathers the 10 nations of Asean, plus Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India and South Korea, along with the US.

ATTEND

Former president Barack Obama, who brought the US into the Asean-organised summits, attended the event every year since 2011 except in 2013 because of a US government shutdown.

Pundits said Mr Trump's absence could signal a lack of interest in the forum and what it represents.

It could also raise doubts about America's credibility and influence in the Asia-Pacific, at a time when China has been drawing more of its neighbours under its wings in a challenge to US presence in the region.

Dr Mira Rapp-Hooper, adjunct senior fellow with the Asia-Pacific Security program me at the Centre for a New American Security in Washington, said: "Coming shortly after the 19th Party Congress in China, in which Mr Xi Jinping has further consolidated his power and laid out a vision for China's rise to superpower status, it raises questions about America's long-term commitment to South-east Asia, given that the EAS is the premiere forum."

- ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NIRMAL GHOSH

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