President Rodrigo Duterte was among the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders’ Summit that skipped a session with United States officials on Monday, November 4, after U.S. President Donald Trump decided not to attend the meeting.
Of the 10-member ASEAN, only Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha showed up to the U.S. summit with national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who was leading the U.S. delegation, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Bloomberg noted that it was the lowest level representation for the U.S. at the meetings since Barack Obama upgraded ties with ASEAN back in 2011.
Other leaders who skipped the U.S. session were Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hseien Loong, Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammad Mahathir, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. represented Duterte at the meeting.
The U.S. expressed concern over the partial boycott of the ASEAN leaders, saying it was an “intentional effort to embarrass” Trump, who is facing impeachment proceedings in their country.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, for his part, said Trump must have decided to skip the leaders’ summit so he could deal with his own problems back in the U.S.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, on the other hand, pointed out that it was inappropriate for ASEAN leaders to meet with a lower level official that was not even a member of the Trump Cabinet, referring to O’Brien.
However, an unidentified diplomat said the ASEAN leaders did not perform a boycott, they just “have other meetings to attend to.”
During the summit, O’Brien said the U.S. must defend its relationship with Asean at all costs and then proceeded to read aloud a letter from Trump inviting regional leaders to join him in the U.S. for a special summit in the first three months of next year.
According to a senior White House official, Trump could not come to the summit this year because he was busy with campaign events back home.
The U.S. president attended the 2017 ASEAN meeting in Manila, while Vice President Mike Pence went to the one in Singapore last year. (Ritchel Mendiola/AJPress)