Donald Trump to skip Asia summits in Singapore, Papua New Guinea; will send Mike Pence instead

Vice-President Mike Pence (above) will attend in Trump's place, the White House said.
Vice-President Mike Pence (above) will attend in Trump's place, the White House said.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump will not be attending the US-Asean and East Asia summits in Singapore as well as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting in Papua New Guinea in November, the White House said on Friday (Aug 31).

It added that Vice-President Mike Pence will be attending both meetings.

Reacting to the announcement, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a brief statement said: “We welcome Vice-President Mike Pence’s visit to Singapore, which will be his first as Vice-President, and his attendance at the 6th Asean-US Summit and 13th East Asia Summit.”

It will be the first time that a US President has skipped the annual US-Asean and East Asia summits since 2013, when then President Barack Obama, dealing with a government shutdown in Washington, sent former vice-president Joe Biden in his place.

Last year, Mr Trump, while attending the US-Asean Summit in the Philippines, skipped the East Asia Summit, drawing some criticism that he was ceding the stage to China. 

Just days later, the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy identified China as a key strategic competitor. Ties between the two are in a rough patch right now, with both embroiled in a trade war and the US moving to curb Chinese acquisition of American technology.

Privately, since Mr Trump’s June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, diplomats and analysts have doubted whether the President, who is known not to be fond of long haul travel, would travel a second time to Singapore for the twin summits , followed by the Apec summit in Papua New Guinea.

Mr Trump is attending a military parade in Paris on Nov 11 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.

He will then visit Ireland and, later in the month, Argentina for a summit of the Group of 20 and Colombia for discussions on security, counter narcotics and regional affairs, the White House said.

Additionally, the Nov 6 mid-term election in the US could be politically fraught for Mr Trump if the Republican Party loses its majority in the House of Representatives.

Vice-President Pence, who has in many respects been the perfect unflappable understudy to the mercurial President, will “highlight the United States’ vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, based on respect for sovereignty, the rule of law and the principles of free, fair and reciprocal trade”, the White House said.

“The Vice-President looks forward to meeting with our allies and partners from across the region to advance security, prosperity and freedom for all,” the statement added. 

The US maintains that Asean lies at the centre of its vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. Asean members will be looking to Mr Pence for a clearer understanding of this vision. It will also be an opportunity for leaders to develop a relationship with Mr Pence, diplomats said.