SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asia-Pacific leaders will join the heads of South-East Asian states this week in Singapore to renew demands for multilateralism and new commitments to resolve regional conflicts ranging from the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar to the tensions in the South China Sea.
FILE PHOTO: US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during an event hosted by US President Donald Trump with workers on "Reducing bureaucracy, unleashing economic freedom" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, USA, 17 October 2018. REUTERS / Joshua Roberts
Remarkably absent when regional powers such as China, Japan and India seek to enlist support for a multilateral trading system will be US President Donald Trump, whose decision to skip the Asian summit raised questions about his commitment to a regional strategy to verify the rise of China.
In place of Trump will participate vice president Mike Pence and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe among those who will join the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asia (10 members) ASEAN).
It is expected that Li will rally the pact for the regional economic partnership pact (RCEP) currently under negotiation, pending a free trade agreement that will include more than a third of world GDP.
The pact comprises 16 countries, including China, India, Japan and South Korea, but not the United States.
Trump has requested commercial agreements that are fair and applicable and based on the principle of reciprocity. He renegotiated an existing pact with South Korea and a three-way agreement with Mexico and Canada, and withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which involved four southern states. East Asia.
The United States is also in the midst of a bitter trade war with China that has undermined global markets.
China is pushing the RCEP agreement – Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong told reporters that "it will be of great importance to deepen regional cooperation, cope with unilateralism and protectionism and promote an open international trade system , inclusive and based on the rules ".
However, Li should appeal to Singapore for the need for the two largest economies in the world to work together to resolve trade disputes, reaffirming the commitment made by the leading Beijing leaders last week for the opening of the market and lowering rates.
It is unclear whether Li and Pence will hold separate talks in the margins of the Singapore meetings, which would be a prelude to a planned summit between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of the month in Buenos Aires.
The meeting, if it were to happen, would be in the light of the high-level talks in Washington, where the two sides aired their main differences, but they seemed to try to control the damage to relationships that worsened with the flat-rate tariffs in last few months.
Many of Singapore's leaders will also meet in the Asia-Pacific economic cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea next weekend.
ASEAN, which will hold its summit on Tuesday before being joined by other leaders, will also face the challenge of working through strong differences on how the Rohingya minority was defeated by Myanmar, whose armed forces were accused of "genocidal intent" by the United Nations.
Leader Aung San Suu Kyi will attend Singapore's meetings this week, while Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, attending his first multilateral summit since he returned to power in May, announced he had lost faith in the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Rohingya crisis is one of the biggest man-made disasters involving a member since ASEAN was founded in 1967 and is one of the thorniest issues faced by a group that traditionally operates by consensus.
Many diplomats and rights activists claim that ASEAN's credibility is at risk if it fails to address the issue head on.
During the meetings, ASEAN and China will seek to make progress in the negotiations for a code of conduct for the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety while the members of ASEAN Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the area. Even Taiwan is an actor.
But it is unlikely that an agreement will be announced.
In addition, ASEAN Member States can announce the successful conclusion of the agreements with Russia and the United States on cooperation on IT security.
Reporting of Jack Kim; additional reportage by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Roberta Rampton in Washington