U.S. President Donald Trump will visit Vietnam this November as part of his Asia tour during which he will attend three summits, Vice President Mike Pence said in Jakarta at the headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday.
Pence said that Trump would attend the U.S.-ASEAN summit and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines, as well as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam, Reuters reported.
The newswire quoted Pence as saying that the Trump administration would work with ASEAN on security issues, trade and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea. China claims most of the flashpoint South China Sea, but has overlapping claims with a number of Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam.
It’s not immediately clear if his trip will also entail an official state-level visit to Vietnam. Even if he does call on Vietnam, "I doubt that the Vietnamese public will be as enthralled as the visit by [President Barack Obama]," said Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia analyst at the U.S. National War College in Washington D.C.
By immediately pulling the plug on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a mammoth U.S.-led trade deal whose 12 members make up nearly 40 percent of global GDP after taking office, Trump has undone the signature policy of his predecessor Obama, who received a boisterous rock-star welcome during his three-day visit to Vietnam last May.
Vietnam is Southeast Asia’s biggest exporter to the U.S., and Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP was viewed as a major setback for Vietnam's economy.
Last December, Trump spoke to Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc by phone and expressed a desire to strengthen the warming ties between the two countries. In late February, Trump sent a letter to President Tran Dai Quang suggesting he was interested in promoting bilateral cooperation.
Trump made clear during the election campaign that he didn't think much of international institutions such as NATO, but his participation in the APEC summit does not come as a big surprise to many.
"He never said anything that I’m aware of about APEC or ASEAN," Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VnExpress International.
"As candidate, Trump attacked NATO for the failure of members to pay what he saw as their fair share for collective defense. But that doesn’t have any bearing on non-security institutions like APEC," Poling said.
It is in this context that the anticipation is building ahead of the visit.
“The most important outcome of the trip is that it will give Trump his first opportunity to meet many of the leaders of the 21 APEC economies and engage some key business executives from these countries,” said Murray Hiebert, an expert on Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.
“It will give him an opportunity to explain how the U.S. will engage the Asia-Pacific on trade and investment, including any initiatives the U.S. may want to propose after dropping out of the TPP," Hiebert said
According to analysts, so far the new administration has paid almost no attention to Southeast Asia, leaving the region to wonder if they are going to be ignored in the Trump team’s Asia policy.
"Productive trips to the Philippines and Hanoi could help assuage those fears," Poling said.