Trump to visit South-east Asia, attend US-Asean summit in November

Trump to visit South-east Asia, attend US-Asean summit in November
President Donald Trump gives the thumbs-up as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. Photo: AP
Published: 7:46 PM, April 20, 2017
Updated: 11:44 PM, April 20, 2017

JAKARTA — American President Donald Trump will visit South-east Asia in November, said Vice-President Mike Pence as he visited Jakarta on Thursday (April 20), adding that Washington would engage regional countries on security, trade, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Mr Pence said in a statement after meeting the secretary-general of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) that Mr Trump would attend the United States-Asean summit and the East Asia summit in the Philippines, as well as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vietnam. 

He said the Trump administration would work with Asean on security issues, trade and the South China Sea. 

Earlier in the day, Mr Pence met Indonesian President Joko Widodo and said both sides would beef up efforts to combat terrorism.

“One of the greatest threats we face is the rise and spread of terrorism,” he said at a joint press conference with the Indonesian leader. 

He also praised Indonesia’s moderate form of Islam. 

“As the largest majority-Muslim country, Indonesia’s tradition of moderate Islam, frankly, is an inspiration to the world,” he said. 

Mr Pence said Washington is committed to building a stronger defence partnership and guaranteeing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where Indonesian and Chinese vessels have recently clashed.

Beijing claims most of the disputed sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) in shipborne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. 

Mr Pence also foreshadowed some reworking of commercial and economic ties, saying that the US seeks a free and fair relationship that helps job creation and economic growth for both sides. 

Indonesia is on Mr Trump’s trade hit list of nations he considers the US is losing out to. American company Freeport-McMoran Incorporated, which operates the world’s largest copper mine in the Indonesian province of Papua, is in a protracted dispute with the Indonesian government.

Mr Pence, an Evangelical Christian, also toured South-east Asia’s largest mosque, Istiqlal, with his wife and daughters. 

The Vice-President’s visit represents the most high-profile outreach to Muslims by the Trump administration since the brash billionaire came to office. It also echoed a similar trip by former US president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, in 2010. 

Mr Pence has sought to use this trip to soften some of the harsher rhetoric about the Muslim world used by Mr Trump, who has frequently railed against “radical Islamic terrorism”. Mr Pence was visiting Indonesia a day after the Indonesian capital Jakarta elected a new Muslim governor, who rode a wave of conservative Islamist votes to defeat an incumbent Christian on trial charged with blasphemy against the Koran.

As the leader of the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Mr Widodo has voiced worries about Mr Trump’s immigration policy, which critics said is biased against Muslims. 

Since becoming President almost 100 days ago, Mr Trump has hosted leaders from majority-Muslim Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. But his administration has also tried to ban travellers from several Muslim-majority nations, citing concerns about terrorism — efforts currently being challenged in American courts. 

The US Vice-President’s outreach in Indonesia, where 90 per cent of the 225 million inhabitants are followers of the faith, has been welcomed locally, but it is unlikely to be enough to assuage fears that the Trump administration is anti-Islam. 

“President Trump’s hostile pronouncements on Islam and Muslims have done considerable damage to his reputation in the Islamic world. It would take more than a visit to repair the damage,” said Mr Fawaz Gerges, an expert on the Middle East and Islam at the London School of Economics.

After Indonesia, Mr Pence will travel to Sydney on Saturday. AGENCIES