Trump is taking tentative steps to engage Southeast Asia, creating ripples in the region

Many leaders in Southeast Asia have expressed concern about the presidency of Donald Trump for their region. As a candidate, he said little about Southeast Asia.

All he knew more about Trump was his commitment to abandon the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership Agreement in which four southeastern countries – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam – were members and threatened to impose 45% tariffs on Chinese product exports To which many countries of Southeast Asian nations contributes through the regional supply chain.

Among the first acts of the Trump administration, the region published a list of 16 countries to be directed trade surplus with the United States, four from Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Trump has issued an order requesting a 90-day nationwide study of these deficits, the results of which are expected at any time. Since then, the Trump administration has reported that it is also seeking security cooperation against terrorism and the isolation of North Korea.

The first serious scope of the Trump administration in Southeast Asia began with the visit of Vice President Mike Pence on April 20 in Indonesia, part of a wider trip to northeastern Asia and Australia. In Jakarta, he visited a mosque and called the moderate mark of Islam in Indonesia an “inspiration” for the world.

It was stopped by the ASEAN Secretariat, which indicates the interest of the administration to continue exercising the regional grouping. Pence also announced that Trump could participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Vietnam and East Asian East Summit of the Philippines in November.

Over time, Trump phoned the leaders of the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore to invite them to Washington. In a call with Rodrigo Duterte, Trump urged the president of the Philippines to reduce trade and diplomatic exchanges with North Korea as part of the United States’ efforts to force the regime to abandon its nuclear and missile program.

Trump praised Duterte for “incredible work on the drug problem,” referring to a war on drugs under which nearly 9,000 people died in extrajudicial executions over the past year.

The next call was addressed to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who also called for a reduction in economic and diplomatic relations between his country and North Korea. Thai officials reported that Trump praised Prayuth’s efforts to restore political stability in Thailand since giving a coup that toppled the democratic government, ending months of disruptive government protests in May of 2014.

Part of Trump’s effort, his collaborators say, is to re-hire two US allies for a long time have been shunned by the previous Obama administration because of concerns about human rights and democracy.

China has deepened aid and investment in Thailand and the Philippines, while Washington has kept the border in order. In addition, in 2015, Thailand and the Philippines became North Korea’s fourth and fifth trading partners, respectively, so their cooperation may be useful in Trump’s efforts to isolate North Korea.

Thais hope Prayuth can reach Washington in July, and Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong is expected to visit in October. The White House has confirmed and the date.

Duterte, anticipating a visit could spark massive protests from activists and human rights of members of Congress during his war on drugs, initially saying he was too busy….

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