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Asean leaders snub US meeting


US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sits on chair after delivering a speech at Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Nonthaburi, Thailand on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK: Several Southeast Asian leaders snubbed a meeting with US officials on Monday 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 summit, instead dispatching commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and national security adviser Robert O’Brien.

(From lefy) Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Philippines Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for ASEAN Affairs Junever Mahilum-West, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia President Joko Widodo and Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith pose for a group photo at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Plus Three summit in Nonthaburi, Thailand, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

Monday’s sparsely attended 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 said.

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 were the prime minister of Thailand, which is hosting the summit, along with the leaders of Laos and Vietnam, next year’s Asean chair. AFP


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