Our translation of an article from RIA Novosti appears below with commentary by Vince Dhimos.
To summarize, the US sent an as-yet unknown official to the South Asia summit, where Trump himself was to appear. The unknown official immediately started harping on the peripheral issue of China’s incursions into disputed parts of the Pacific instead of talking about bread and butter trade issues. Another US official at the summit tried to sell the group on the idea of a new organization that would include both Asia Pacific and parts of South Asia that hardly fit in with that region. Both officials were trying to lead their audience to accept a US-led agenda that would tend to separate them from China, even though China is their main trading partner In other words, politics as usual from the US delegation, with trade taking a back seat.
The author makes it clear that the group members were no on board with making the US their main partner to the exclusion of China. The see this as just more US bullying.
Here’s what the next US failure in Asia look like
November 6, 2019
A classic example of a diplomatic failure is when the head of the American delegation at an international meeting expects to see ten heads of foreign states and governments in front of him, but they don’t show up.
The thing is, three responded to the call, including the country's prime minister, the polite host of the meeting (Thailand), and the leaders of Vietnam and Laos, while seven - Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines - sent ministers instead.
It’s not just American protocol arrogance to think that if you represent the United States, presidents and prime ministers should come running to you, even if you yourself are just the unknown national security adviser to the President, Robert O’Brien. Although this story speaks of the general decline of American diplomacy, it is not the only one.
However, the absence of the majority of the audience is explained by the fact that the attendees probably knew what the American would be talking about (usually diplomats agree on the main parameters of serious meetings in advance). And they knew, among other things, that O’Brien would invite all ten of the leaders of Southeast Asian countries to a “special summit” with President Donald Trump to Washington next year.
And this is again a rude breach of protocol. The fact is, Trump himself was supposed to come to Thailand (where the action took place), to an event called the East Asian Summit. Either that or send in his place the second person in the administration, vice president Michael Pence. Other guests did this - Russia, China, South Korea, and so on (the summit's hosts are the very ten countries of Southeast Asia that are members of the ASEAN group). Instead, a person arrives with an as-yet unclear influence in the US administration, to say, translated from the diplomatic, the following: we don’t want to deal with you here; come to us instead, if at all.
But protocol is, after all, only a form of politeness. What about the content and meaning of US policy in the region? And this content was very clearly stated by O’Brien himself for his snubbed audience. In fact, his speech came down to attacks on China over territorial disputes with neighbours in the South China Sea, but these accusations had annoyed participants in ASEAN meetings under the previous administration.
But behind the silly story under the heading "superpower gets a whack on the nose" there is a general picture of the failure of all American policies in Asia as a whole. The fact is, in Thailand itself, even at its summit consisting of ten ASEAN countries (on the eve of the East Asian summit), the leaders only talked about what to do in the unacceptable situation of the growing confrontation between the United States and China. The ideal situation for ASEAN is trade with both partners, rather than trying to deal with one so as not to anger the other. And many leaders of “The Ten” at their summit pointed out that it was not China that started this fight. In general, to demand of ASEAN that it break with China and join exclusively with the United States is a very bad policy, but it is precisely what the United States is pursuing.
In addition, the United States is also torpedoing the idea for which the ASEAN leaders actually gathered in Thailand — ie, a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This is a trade block of long standing that includes China but does not include the USA. SEA countries need it, among other things, to show: here are our valuable partners, and America will not undermine relations with them.
Here’s how American diplomacy is trying to undermine the idea of RCEP: by blurring (on paper) the very concept of the Pacific region with its cooperation and proposing instead a certain "Indo-Pacific region." That is, by including India and the rest of South Asia where this South Asia hardly fits.
Another member of the American delegation, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, also spoke in Thailand and showered the audience with spectacular statistics showing how important America is to the newly-minted “dual” region. US trade with it has grown to two trillion dollars last year, more than with Europe; investments are up to 1.6 trillion dollars, and all this is "more than with China."
In a similar situation, British scientist and writer Andrew Lang said of one of the enemies: "he uses statistics like a drunk uses a street lamp - for support, and not as a source of light."
And the light in this case is shed on a simple situation: India and others find it difficult to fit into the Pacific region. And now the main upshot of the series of summits in Thailand is that India still cannot enter the RCEP, although the other 15 participants are leaving the door open for it. Nonetheless, they will sign an agreement on RCEP with each other next year in any case.
At the same time, everyone in Asia knows that India is not acting so as to please the United States while harming an agreement that involves China. It’s just that its economy cannot withstand too-rapid integration with another region; it requires a long period of protection.
Thus, this same awkward American diplomacy is also committing falsification, assigning credit to itself that it does not deserve. And all the rest of Asia sees it.
Further, those gathered in Bangkok actively discussed the details of the "intermediate" economic agreement between the US and China, which were supposed to be signed in Chile at the summit of another, albeit similar, APEC organization, but the summit was cancelled. But it turns out that the agreement means at best a truce in trade and all other confrontations, but in general, the fight that is odious to the Pacific region and undermines its economy will continue. And at that point, will there be much use for the “special summit” of the USA and ASEAN next year?