Several Southeast Asian leaders snubbed a meeting with US officials yesterday after President Donald Trump decided not to attend a regional summit in Bangkok.
Just three leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) showed up to the session, along with a host of foreign ministers.
Trump has been accused of turning his back on Asian allies for pulling out of a major trade pact, as fellow superpower China pursues its own deals and investment projects in the region.
Washington did not send top officials to the weekend Asean summit, instead dispatching commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and national security advisor Robert O’Brien.
Yesterday’s address from O’Brien stood in contrast to earlier Asean meetings, which had all been attended by most heads of state.
“It’s not appropriate for Asean to send leaders when the US representation is not on parity,” one diplomat in Bangkok told AFP.
Another diplomat said: “It’s not a boycott, it’s just that other leaders have other meetings to attend to.”
In lieu of Trump’s physical presence, O’Brien read a letter from the president inviting “the leaders of Asean to join me in the United States for a special summit” in the first three months of next year.
In attendance was the prime minister of Thailand, which is hosting the summit, along with the leaders of Laos and Vietnam, next year’s Asean chair.
The summit, which closed yesterday, has been peppered with statements from leaders rallying against protectionism amid fears of dragging global growth made worse by the US-China trade war.
Trump, who attended the 2017 Asean meeting in Singapore -- Vice President Mike Pence went to the one in Manila last year -- could not come this year because he was busy with campaign events back home, a senior White House official said.
China’s premier and the leaders of India, South Korea and Japan all made an appearance at meetings yesterday, although none of them was expected at the US-Asean summit.