After initially planning on returning from his first-ever presidential trip to Asia without attending the East Asia Summit (EAS) in the Philippines, U.S. President Donald Trump will now attend the entire summit.
According to a senior administration official who briefed reporters ahead of Trump’s trip, the president made the decision to attend the main day of the summit — the day after the opening dinner — after being requested to do so by other leaders.
“I think that he heard from friends and fellow leaders who said, ‘Hey, why don’t you stay an extra day…’,” the official said in a briefing. “It happened in a conversation. He said, let’s do that, let’s do that.”
The official did not note if there was any particular world leader who asked Trump to stay or if he was convinced during a specific conversation. Trump had spoken to multiple Asian leaders after his itinerary became known, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsein-loong, who visited Washington, DC.
In late October, the Washington Post first reported that Trump’s agenda would exclude the main day of the EAS in Angeles, near Manila, where Trump would also meet bilaterally with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
“The President’s trip to Asia is extremely lengthy and will be his longest to date – his return to the U.S. on the evening of Nov. 13 is entirely schedule-driven,” a spokesman had told the Post‘s Josh Rogin. “You should not read anything into his being absent on the 14th.”
Trump’s initial decision not to attend the Summit marked a sharp departure from his predecessor’s Asia policy, which treated the EAS as an important forum in which to make the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific apparent.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama attended every East Asia Summit beginning in 2011 with the exception of the 2013 summit in Brunei, which he didn’t attend due to the U.S. government shutdown over a budget impasse that year.
The East Asia Summit is held every fall and coincides with the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ meeting. It brings together 18 states, including the United States, China, India, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea in addition to the ten members of ASEAN.
The EAS serves as a forum for high-level discussion of regional and global issues, including trade and security.
Trump is scheduled to deliver a major address on his administration’s view of the Asia-Pacific region, but not at the EAS. Instead, Trump will deliver an address on the theme of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” to business leaders in Da Nang Vietnam, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.