SHOW OF UNILATERALISM
U.S. VP’S attendance falls flat of expectations at APEC meeting
WThe author is a professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston ith U.S. President Donald Trump absent, Vice President Mike Pence substituted for him at the Asia-pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and the East Asia Summit hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore. Trump’s decision raised legitimate questions about U.S. commitments and reliability in the region. Why did Trump choose to skip the meetings? And what did this say about his attitude and policy toward both the meetings and the region in general?
Simply stated, Trump made a big mistake skipping the meetings, giving the impression that the United States cares less about the Pacific Rim region, and, in particular, nations such as Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, and the Cook Islands than China, Japan and Australia.
Combine this snub with the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-pacific Partnership trade agreement and its ongoing trade war with China, and it becomes even more apparent that AsiaPacific is far from the vital region the United States and Trump claim it to be. Trump’s attendance would have underscored U.S. commitment to the region. It could have also provided an opportunity for Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to meet before the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Instead, Trump’s unwillingness to attend meetings, shape the agenda, shore up U.S. alliances and deepen U.S. ties in the region pre- vailed. Trump is well known for his reluctance to attend multilateral meetings and instead prefers bilateral gatherings such as his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He does not believe in multilateralism, while APEC’S goal is to promote mutual trade and cooperation.
Trump, who attended the gatherings last year but departed early, sent Pence instead. This did little to deter skepticism that Trump’s “America First” policy is of greater importance to him and his administration than engaging in the spirit of APEC’S work and enhancing cooperation and trade to engender inclusive growth. It is unlikely to occur to Trump that APEC member economies account for almost half of the world’s trade.
Personal interactions and the symbolic commitment of attending such events are important to both the leaders and populations of the Asia-pacific region. If the United States was really concerned about maintain- ing its relevance on a global stage, Trump should have been in attendance, engaging with his counterparts and illustrating the U.S. commitment to the region in a speech to the delegation. By contrast, Xi not only attended the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, but he also delivered a key speech at the APEC CEO Summit and held meetings with several Asian and Pacific leaders, including eight Pacific Island states. His appearance undoubtedly overshadowed Pence’s presence. Pence pointedly skipped Xi’s APEC speech and restated Trump’s hardline stance that the United States would keep tariffs on China until it addresses concerns outlined by his administration.
This year, the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting ended without a communiqué for the first time in history. The primary area of contention was the insistence by one country— likely the United States—that the outcome document should reflect its own stance on the
Media workers install satellite ground stations before the 26th Asia-pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on November 13