What happens in Vegas . . .
The leaders of five ASEAN countries – Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – have confirmed their attendance at a U.S.-ASEAN summit in Las Vegas next month at the invitation of President Donald Trump. The summit is seen as an ‘olive branch’ after Trump skipped the 2018 and 2019 summits, sending lower-level officials. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will not be joining the meeting, reportedly in retaliation for the U.S. cancelling the visa for one of Duterte’s political allies over human rights concerns. And Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar have not indicated who will represent them at the meeting. One observer noted that they may interpret Trump’s summit as another diplomatic snub: “Instead of Trump going to them, the leaders have been summoned to come to him in what seems to be a logistically arrogant and self-serving effort to persuade these countries to support the U.S. in its efforts to contain China,” opined Mark J. Valencia, a senior scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in China.
South China Sea likely to top agenda . . .
Despite the damage Trump has inflicted on the relationship, some ASEAN members share Washington’s concern about China’s behaviour in the South China Sea – an issue that is expected to surface at the Las Vegas meeting. Indeed, three of the larger ASEAN members have grown more assertive in pressing their sovereignty claims: Vietnam is exploring its legal options; Malaysia submitted a claim to the UN in December to extend its continental shelf in the South China Sea; and, in January, Indonesia openly rejected Beijing’s claims over a disputed area.
Lessons for Canada . . .
In this case, what happens in Vegas is not likely to stay in Vegas. Indeed, the summit’s outcomes – who attends and what is discussed – should be of keen interest to Canada. The U.S.’s bungling of its ASEAN relationship should serve as a warning for Ottawa not to tether its regional engagement too closely to the American approach. The region’s varied and shifting relations with Beijing are another complicating factor for Canada-ASEAN relations, especially given the current tensions in the Canada-China relationship.
- The Diplomat: Malaysia’s new game in the South China Sea
- Nikkei Asian Review: ASEAN members start standing up to China’s maritime aggression
- South China Morning Post: How the U.S. is losing hearts and minds in Southeast Asia to China