Trump extends PH visit, joins summit
PRESIDENT Donald Trump said Friday (Saturday in Manila) he would add a day to the end of his five-nation tour of Asia, saying he would now stay for “the most important day” of a regional summit.
The president had been scheduled to return to the US on Nov. 13, a day before the start of the East Asia Summit, the traditional venue for discussing major regional policy issues such as North Korean aggression and China’s activities in the South China Sea.
Shortly after Trump’s departure from the White House on Friday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that plans had changed—Trump was extending his trip by one day to attend the summit.
Malacañang welcomed the announcement that Trump would extend his stay in the Philippines to attend the East Asia Summit .
“The President [Duterte] looks forward to engaging President Trump in the productive dialogue at the Asean-US Commemorative Summit and the EAS,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar told state radio dzRB.
The US President decided to extend his trip to the country for another day in order to attend the EAS this November.
The EAS is an annual meeting of national leaders from the East Asian region and adjoining countries. The 12th EAS will convene in Angeles City in Pampanga on Nov.13 and 14.
Foreign policy experts had warned that Trump’s decision to forgo the gathering -- which former President Barack Obama regularly attended—could deepen anxieties among Asian partners over the US commitment to the region, especially in light of the escalating North Korean threat and Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“We’re staying the extra day because the following day is actually the most important day,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Hawaii.
Former Obama administration officials criticized Trump’s earlier decision not to attend, saying it would open the door for China to seize a leading role in the region.
“What we said prior to President Obama’s final trip to Asia is even truer today: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” said Ned Price, the chief National Security Council spokesman during the Obama administration.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Trump said he had originally planned to spend a day in Hawaii at the end of the trip, but canceled to stay longer in the Philippines.
“I’m going to spend the extra day at the second conference, which is a very important conference,” he said.
Trump kicked off his trip with a stop in Hawaii to meet with leaders at US Pacific Command, who briefed him on the security situation in the region.
After the briefing, the president took a boat tour of Pearl Harbor and visited the USS Arizona memorial, built on top of the battleship sunk in the Japanese attack in December 1941. Trump laid a wreath before the marble war memorializing the 1,177 officers and crewman who died aboard the ship and stood for a moment of silence.
Trump’s stop at Pearl Harbor is the first since Obama’s visit to the site in December 2016, when he was accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Trump’s official visit is the first longest visit to Asia by an American President.
He is set to look for support from Asian countries to pressure North Korea to stop its launching of nuclear ballistic missiles in the Korea Peninsula and in Japan.
White House Press Secretary James Brady said in previous press briefings that Trump’s participation in the Asean events would advance US leadership in promoting an Indo-Pacific trade and security architecture based on freedom, openness, and adherence to rule of law.
“The President’s travel is going to underscore his commitment to longstanding U.S. alliances and partnerships, and reaffirm US leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Brady said.
“The trip is a continuation of the President’s extensive diplomatic engagement with countries from the Indo-Pacific region,” he added.
The last time a US president was in Asia for so long was in late 1991 and early 1992, when President George H.W. Bush became ill at a Japanese state dinner.
Trump is facing several controversies barely one year after he became president of the US.
This includes an intensifying federal investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election, New York’s recovery from an attack that killed eight people and debate over a tax-cut plan that if approved by Congress would be his first major legislative victory.
Trump is scheduled to arrive in Manila on Nov. 12 to participate in the special gala celebration for the 50th anniversary of Asean.
In a press briefing in Washington, Brady said “President Duterte, he’s spoken with, they’ve had exchanges of letters. I think there’s a warm rapport there, and he’s very much looking forward to his first in-person meeting with President Duterte,” Brady said.
-Bloomberg, John Paolo Bencito, and Sara Susanne Fabunan