In deciding at the last minute to extend his stay in the Philippines by a day to attend the East Asia Summit (EAS) on November 14 in Pampanga, US President Donald Trump has indicated his resolve to strengthen US ties with Asia during his first visit to the region.
Mr. Trump’s decision also augurs well for the highly strategic summit, to which all sides of the Pacific attach so much importance.
It never made sense for Mr. Trump to visit so many Asian countries (5) and be away from Washington for so long (12 days), and then skip the EAS over an alleged scheduling problem.
The reset is an exhibition of good sense and high purpose by the American leader. It bears assurance that this longest visit to Asia by a US President in five decades is designed to meet a high bar in statesmanship.
Whether the White House acknowledges it or not, Asians, as well as Americans, view this Trump tour as a test of US leadership in Asia-Pacific.
By initially announcing his intent to skip the summit and be represented by a surrogate, Mr. Trump sent a bad signal about his seriousness toward the region. The change-of-mind is a corrective, which all summit participants will welcome.
The East Asia Summit is an annual forum that is attended without fail by leaders of the 10 Asean member states and their vital trade partners: the United States, Japan, Australia, China, New Zealand, India and Russia.
According to the head of the Asean organizing Committee, 21 heads of states, heads of governments, and the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutteres, are set to attend the regional meeting. Foreign leaders and delegates are expected to start arriving on Nov. 10. The first summit commences on Nov. 12.
Mr. Trump will attend the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Nov. 12 and the Asean-US summit the following day. He will attend the EAS summit and related meetings on Nov. 14.
With this full schedule, the US President will be in position to conduct dialogue and discussions with other Asia-Pacific leaders, and push the ambitious agenda of his Asian tour.
Analysts have enumerated the following as the uppermost concerns on the US President’s mind during his Asian trip: 1. the North Korea crisis; 2. strengthening the US presence in Asia; 3. US-China relations; 4. trade alliances with Asian countries; 5.US-Japan relations.
All the items in this agenda are important, but none is more significant than the reaffirmation of US leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. Some are expectant that by his words during his stops in five Asian countries, Trump will articulate a new US vision for its role in the region.
A more expansive view of Mr. Trump’s Asian journey has become realistic now, because of his decision to do a complete Asian journey, instead of taking a shortcut.