By Invitation

Another Trump absence plays into China's hand

In the contest for influence in Asean, turning up at summits matters, even if no deals are to be signed.

As leaders across the Indo-Pacific region gather in Bangkok this weekend for the 14th East Asia Summit (EAS), the United States will be conspicuous for the absence of its top two leaders, President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence.

Mr Trump managed to attend the EAS two years ago in Manila, and designated Mr Pence to stand in for him last year in Singapore. That Mr Trump has decided to assign a lower-level delegation this year, led by National Security Adviser (NSA) Robert O'Brien and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, sends wrong signals and messages to US allies and partners just as China under President Xi Jinping's steady stewardship continues to make geopolitical headway.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2019, with the headline 'Another Trump absence plays into China's hand'. Subscribe