Media focus on China and the U.S. . . .
English-language media coverage of this weekend’s summits has generally focused on China and the United States and the ongoing trade war. It was widely reported that Trump’s national security advisor, Robert O’Brien, publicly criticized China’s “aggressive” conduct in the South China Sea, while China’s Premier Li Keqiang blamed the U.S. for fomenting regional tensions. The media has also highlighted the conspicuous absence of President Trump and Vice President Pence from the meetings, while drawing attention to a further warming-up in China-Japan relations signaled by a meeting between Premier Li and Japanese Prime Minister Abe.
Middle powers rising . . .
While the media focus at the summits has been on the U.S. and China, middle powers have played a significant role in these meetings. The ASEAN-initiated RCEP didn’t materialize, but the member states – minus India – made progress by agreeing on all 20 chapters of the proposed agreement. On the security front, ASEAN members did push for the completion of the South China Sea ‘Code of Conduct’ in 2021, which includes conflict resolution mechanisms. Among the middle powers, Singapore proved a key mover of multilateralism in trade and in the drafting of the maritime COC.
Canada not so much . . .
Newly-re-elected Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau cancelled his attendance at the ASEAN meeting, citing a pre-occupation with forming a government. This is unfortunate, as Canada’s interests would be best served by expanding and deepening multilateral trade relations in the region. After Trudeau forms the new government, Ottawa needs to return to the region with a renewed focus.
- Channel News Asia: Multilateral trading system must be updated to 'reflect current realities’: PM Lee
- Nikkei Asian Review: 16 Asia-Pacific nations fail to seal RCEP trade deal
- US News: US, China spar at Southeast Asian regional summit