President Donald Trump will skip two major summits in Asia in November, sending Vice President Mike Pence instead. The decision will play into the hands of China as the country tries to present itself as an alternative to US leadership.
Trump will not attend summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering. Not attending these major meetings will send a message to Asian nations that Trump is less interested in the Asia-Pacific region than his predecessor, Barack Obama. The Obama administration pivoted foreign policy towards Asia.
This will also provide an opportunity for China. Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend both summits as China tries to sell itself as the natural leader in Asia. Without Trump, China will be able to suggest that US interest is wavering. Xi will likely push for further economic cooperation with his country.
The news comes while Trump is pursuing a trade war with China, slapping tariffs on Chinese imports. The President will now miss two opportunities to meet with Xi Jinping and potentially reach a deal on trade. Trump’s decision may also be seen as a snub by allies, such as Japan, who are already worried about America’s commitment in the region.
Sending the Vice President will not be enough to reassure Asian nations. Trump is passing up an opportunity to face China directly, despite his harsh rhetoric. However, Trump will visit Europe in November.