MANILA - The Philippines has confirmed that United States President Donald Trump will attend a summit with South-east Asia’s leaders and celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Asean in Manila next month (November), 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 on Wednesday (Oct 25).
Philippine ambassador Marciano Paynor, head of the Asean summit organising group, said at a news forum that while nothing yet is set in stone, the EAS remained set 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 the US is that if the EAS pushes through on Nov 14, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will attend in place of Mr Trump, said Mr Paynor.
A text message to reporters earlier in the day by the Philippine foreign ministry’s spokesman confirmed that Mr Trump would be in Manila for the special gala celebration of the 50th anniversary of Asean on Nov 12 and the Asean-US summit on Nov 13.
The Washington Post on Tuesday quoted a National Security Council spokesman saying that Mr Trump will be in the Philippines on Nov 12 and 13, but “will not travel the additional 52 miles to the Filipino city of Angeles on Nov 14 for the East Asia Summit”.
“The President’s trip to Asia is extremely lengthy and will be his longest to date – his return to the US on the evening of Nov 13 is entirely schedule-driven,” the spokesman said.
The Associated Press also cited the White House saying Mr Trump may attend some meetings related to the East Asia Summit before the gathering officially begins, but will be returning home on Nov 14, the same day as the East Asia Summit.
The Philippines said on Wednesday that the East Asia Summit 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 United States.
Since former president Barack Obama brought the United States into the summit, he has attended the event every year since 2011, except for 2013, when a US government shutdown forced him to cancel his trip.
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.
Mr Paynor said Mr Trump would, “in principle”, meet with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte.
“It is only a question of time and timing,” he said.
Mr Duterte has kept warm relations with Mr Trump, calling him a “kindred spirit”, a departure from scathing remarks he had said against the last White House occupant, Mr Obama.
The difference has been that while Mr Obama criticised Mr Duterte’s war on drugs, which has cost the lives of at least 3,000 suspects, Mr Trump has not.