Malaysia snubs US plan to host Asia-Pacific summit


Malaysia has rejected an offer by the administration of President Donald Trump to host a Pacific Rim summit in the United States next year. 

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Thursday that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had sought his views on Malaysia’s position on a possible APEC meeting in the US in January during a recent regional summit in Bangkok.

Pompeo told him that “because Chile is not able to host the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this November… the US is thinking of hosting APEC somewhere in January in the US”, the top Malaysian diplomat said.

“I have informed the American officials while they were in Bangkok that we do not think this is a good idea,” he said.

The APEC summit had been scheduled for November 16-17 in Chile, but President Sebastian Pinera suddenly cancelled it because of the ongoing civil unrest in the South American country.

Malaysia is at the center of talks for any replacement summit as it is next year’s chair of APEC, a trade-focused grouping of 21 Pacific Rim economies stretching from China to Chile and the United States.

The sharp retort comes days after most Southeast Asian leaders skipped a session with US officials after President Donald Trump decided to avoid the last week’s regional annual summit in Thailand’s capital.

Last Monday, just three leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) showed up at the meeting with US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, who was leading the US delegation at the summit in the Thai capital.

Video from the event showed seven foreign ministers sitting at a table usually reserved for heads of states.

Washington sent a relatively low-level delegation to the weekend ASEAN summit – a decision that was widely perceived as a snub, given that other top leaders were present.

The US has reportedly taken issue with what it saw as ASEAN leaders’ “intentional effort to embarrass” President Trump at the summit.

This was the second year in a row that Trump has skipped the summit. Vice-President Mike Pence attended last year’s meeting in Singapore.

During the summit in Bangkok, member states rallied against protectionism amid fears of dragging global growth made worse by the US-China trade war.

Established in 1967, the ASEAN group is comprised of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Heads of 10 ASEAN countries and six of its dialogue partners — Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand — are scheduled to meet on November 4 for their third RCEP summit and the closing ceremony.

The China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), comprised of 16 countries, accounts for a third of global gross domestic product and nearly half the world’s population. 

China proposed the RCEP shortly after President Trump pulled the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — which would have been the world’s largest trade deal.

The pact, which will be the world’s biggest free trade deal, is expected to cover about a quarter of the world’s exports.

It is also aimed at breaking down trade barriers and promoting investment to help emerging economies catch up with the rest of the world.

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