Trump absent, ASEAN charts path for trade bloc led by China


Southeast Asian leaders agreed Sunday to work with China and other neighbors to transcend conflicts over trade policies and territorial disputes for the sake of stronger economies and regional stability.
President Donald Trump skipped the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and instead sent his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien. Last year, Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence. Both now are busy campaigning back home, and analysts say their absence left room for China to further raise its profile and clout in the region.
ASEAN leaders “welcomed the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations” and the commitment to sign the free trade deal next year, the summit’s host, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, said in a statement on behalf of the 10-nation regional bloc after the annual meetings.
Officials said there were still final issues to be resolved by the 16 countries involved in the trade deal, which has been under negotiation for seven years.
ASEAN also reported progress toward setting a code of conduct with China regarding disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told other leaders attending that Beijing was committed to forging such an agreement.
Li welcomed progress on negotiating a code of conduct that could avert armed confrontations in one of the world’s most disputed regions.

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