2017/19, 24 April 2017
US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to four Asia-Pacific countries – South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia – have brought some measure of relief to a region anxious to know if the erstwhile Pacific power was still interested in them. Given that President Donald Trump has yet to make any overseas trip 100 days into his presidency, these visits by the Vice President provide hints of where the priorities of the Trump Administration’s foreign policy lie. As it relates to Asia, it is becoming clear that the Administration not only seeks to reassure its traditional treaty allies, but also sends a strong message that Southeast Asia has not gone unnoticed in Washington, DC.
The most important part of Vice President Pence’s trip to Indonesia came in his announcement confirming President Trump’s attendance in this year’s ASEAN and East Asia Summits in the Philippines as well as the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Vietnam, which will all be held in the space of one week in November 2017. Although President Trump’s visit is scheduled seven months away and much can happen between now and then, the announcement is a much-needed shot in the arm for Southeast Asia.
Following Vice President Pence’s pronouncements, a flurry of Southeast Asia-related news have trickled from Washington DC in quick succession. These include US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s invitation to ASEAN foreign ministers for a special summit on 4 May in the US capital, and President Trump’s personal invitation to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc for an official visit to the US. Taken together, these actions on the part of the US are steps in the right direction and should be welcomed. Continued American engagement with the Southeast Asia has paid dividends in the past as the US sought to establish its presence in Asia-Pacific. President Trump would do well to continue this trend in the interest of the US’ strategic presence in the region.
Jason Salim is Research Officer at ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
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