US postpones southeast Asian leaders' meeting due to virus
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States has postponed a meeting of leaders of southeast Asian nations that was set for Las Vegas in mid-March due to the spread of the coronavirus, a senior Trump administration official and the Philippine ambassador said.
President Donald Trump had invited the leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to meet in the U.S. this year after he skipped their annual meeting last year, which was held in Thailand. Trump sent national security adviser Robert O'Brien to the meeting in his place.
A senior Trump administration official said Friday that the U.S. had consulted with its ASEAN partners before it made the “difficult decision” to postpone the Las Vegas meeting. Trump would have been expected to attend.
The administration official said the U.S. values its relationships with the nations of the region, and "looks forward to future meetings.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House had yet to announce the postponement.
Jose Manuel Romualdez, the Philippine ambassador to Washington, said the White House notified the Philippines and other ASEAN member states’ embassies about the postponement Friday, citing the global concerns on the viral outbreak.
“ASEAN ambassadors were informed by White House officials that the summit has been postponed because of the coronavirus,” Romualdez told The Associated Press in Manila. “They said they’re looking forward to future meetings, so that’s been left open.”
“I think it’s appropriate because, honestly, this has become far more serious than anything else,” he said of the viral outbreak that began in China and has spread to nearly 60 countries across the world, including the U.S.
ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Together, they make up a fast-growing regional market of nearly 650 million people.
At least two leaders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, had said they would not attend the summit in Las Vegas, but the rest of the ASEAN leaders were expected to go before the postponement was announced.
Trump's absence at the ASEAN annual meeting last year, the second year in a row he skipped it, sparked new questions about the U.S. commitment to Asia, where Washington has been seen as a crucial counterweight amid China’s rapid rise and increasingly assertive actions in the disputed South China Sea.
Gomez reported from Manila.