ASEAN foreign ministers agree to hold summit with Trump

MANILA, Philippines – Members of the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc have agreed to the United States' proposal to hold a special summit with US President Donald Trump, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr said on Monday, January 20.

"The ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Retreat adopted the consensus to hold the ASEAN-US Summit with US President Trump," Locsin tweeted.

Locsin was referring to Trump's invitation sent to the 10 leaders of ASEAN last November, after failing to attend the US-ASEAN Summit for the second year in a row. Trump's absence at the regional summit was not well received as 7 out of 10 ASEAN leaders snubbed a meeting with US national security advisor Robert O'Brien, who stood in for the US.

The ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Retreat adopted the consensus to hold the ASEAN-US Summit with US President Trump. https://t.co/BzFbLDwZVq — Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) January 20, 2020

Diplomats at the high level meeting refused to call it a boycott, saying other leaders had other meetings to attend to, while protocol noted it was "not appropriate for ASEAN to send leaders when the US representation is not on parity."

While ASEAN foreign ministers agreed to hold the ASEAN-US Summit with Trump, a report by the Bangkok Post cited ASEAN sources saying Southeast Asian leaders will have the final say on whether or not they will attend the meeting scheduled to take place in Las Vegas in March 2020.

Waiting game: On Sunday afternoon, January 19, Malacañang Palace said Trump renewed his invite to the ASEAN leaders in a followup invitation sent earlier this month.

While Malacañang has not yet released the latest invite, it released Trump's November 2019 letter to his ASEAN counterparts. This letter was the same one read out by O'Brien in the sparsely attend 2019 US-ASEAN Summit.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to offer an invitation to the leaders of ASEAN to join me in the United States for a special summit meeting at a time of mutual convenience in the first quarter of 2020.... The American people and I hope to see you in the United States soon," Trump said in the letter.

LOOK: US President Donald Trump has invited President Rodrigo Duterte and other Southeast Asian Leaders to attend a “special summit” in the US sometime in the first quarter of 2020. The letter was dated November 1, 2019 and shared to media January 19, 2020. @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/UpD8EU4CR0 — Sofia Tomacruz (@sofiatomacruz) January 19, 2020

Asked if the Philippines would attend, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said there has been “no official information” on whether or not President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted Trump’s invite.

Duterte had, on many occasions, expressed his dislike for the United States, particularly under the administration of then-president Barack Obama who was critical of his war on drugs. Even with the assumption of Trump, with whom he has built rapport, Duterte has repeatedly stated he would never visit America.

The latest sign of this was in December 2019, when Panelo said Duterte would "reply to the letter invitation and decline it," following US lawmakers' proposal to sanction Philippine officials involved in the drug war and the detention of Senator Leila de Lima.

"He said he never intended to visit the US ever since," Panelo claimed. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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