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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


US-ASEAN Special Leaders’
Meeting in 1st Quarter of 2020?
Carlyle A. Thayer
January 10, 2020

Late last year, after failing to turn up at the ASEAN-United States Leaders’ Meeting,
President Donald Trump announced that he would invite ASEAN heads of government
to the United States for a special leader’s meeting in the first quarter of 2020.
Are you able to provide any insight as to the state of play of this invitation and if such
a leaders’ meeting will take place? We have been unable to find any media reporting
on this.
ANSWER: Any prospective leaders’ meeting in the United States has been soured by
Southeast Asian leaders’ response to Trump’s no show late last year. Only three of
ASEAN’s ten leaders – Thailand, Laos and Vietnam – sent their heads of government
to the ASEAN-US leaders' meeting to meet with Trump’s stand in, Special Envoy Robert
C. O’Brien, his adviser for national security. Trump officials later were critical of what
they said was disrespect for the President of the United States.
The only publicity were news reports that President Trump sent a letter of invitation
to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to attend the special leaders’ meeting; he
accepted immediately. According to these reports no date was specified. It can be
inferred that similar letters whet out to the other nine ASEAN heads of government.
Vietnam will have inherited the legacy of Thailand's planning schedule for ASEAN
meetings in 2020. For example, ASEAN Senior Officials are scheduled meet to prepare
for the follow-on ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat; these meeting are imminent as
they scheduled to take place from 15-17 January. This provides the first opportunity
to discuss face-to-face Trump’s invitation and to reach consensus on how to respond.
Getting ASEAN leaders to attend a special meeting in the first quarter of 2020 is a big
ask. ASEAN is committed to holding it 53rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and the 36th
ASEAN Summit from 6-8 April.
Trump likewise has a lot on his plate: impending impeachment trial in the Senate,
heightened tensions if not a crisis in relations with Iran and Iraq, North Korean
truculence, and presidential elections.
One factor that should weigh on ASEAN leaders’ is that if they are unable to
accommodate President Trump, there is unlikely to be any ASEAN-United States
Leaders’ Meeting by heads of government this year. ASEAN usually holds summits in
November. The U.S. will hold presidential elections on 2nd November. If Trump wins
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he is unlikely to have the time to visit Southeast Asia as he enters his second term. If
Trump loses, the new U.S. president will not be sworn into office until January 2021.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “US-ASEAN Special Leaders’ Meeting in 1st


Quarter of 2020?” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, January 10, 2020. All
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
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