Straits Herald November 8, 2019

An offer by the United States to host a Pacific rim summit in America in 2020 after Chile abruptly cancelled this year’s event was “not a good idea”, Malaysia’s foreign minister said Thursday.

The sharp retort comes days after most southeast Asian leaders snubbed a meeting with US officials in Thailand when President Donald Trump failed to show.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit had been scheduled for November 16-17 in Chile, but President Sebastian Pinera pulled out of hosting it because of ongoing civil unrest in the country.

According to Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called him during a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders in Bangkok last week.

Pompeo told him that “because Chile is not able to host APEC this November… the US is thinking of hosting APEC somewhere in January in the US”, and asked for Malaysia’s position.

Saifuddin said he told US officials in Bangkok that “we don’t think it is a good idea”.

US President Donald Trump skipped the ASEAN summit and instead sent US national security advisor Robert O’Brien and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to lead the US delegation.

Most of the ASEAN leaders snubbed a meeting with the US delegation, sending more junior officials instead.

Saifuddin said he was aware of a letter sent by Trump to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad “about an invitation to something in the US”.

Malaysia is at the centre 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.

Chairmanship includes hosting meetings that typically culminate in a summit of the leaders around November.

A Southeast Asian diplomat who asked not to be named confirmed that Washington is sounding out countries about an APEC summit in January and had offered Las Vegas as a possible venue, but would not give other details.

Another source, a delegate who was supposed to attend the cancelled APEC meeting in Chile, did not sound enthusiastic about a summit in the US.

“I don’t see the point, what for?” he told AFP. “A summit for the sake of having a summit?”

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were supposed to meet in Chile to sign a partial deal in a bid to ease a bruising trade war.

Trump said Thursday that an alternative location for the signing will be “announced soon”. – AFP