US-China tensions overshadow ASEAN Leaders’ Summit in Singapore

US-China tensions overshadow ASEAN Leaders’ Summit in Singapore

The leaders of ASEAN’s 10 member-states will meet in Singapore today for the 33rd ASEAN Leaders’ Summit. Over the coming

asean summit

Photo: AP/Yong Teck Lim

The leaders of ASEAN’s 10 member-states will meet in Singapore today for the 33rd ASEAN Leaders’ Summit. Over the coming three days, they will be joined by leaders from Australia, Japan and Russia for discussions on issues as diverse as cybersecurity, terrorism, Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis and free trade. Yet despite the absence of both US President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping, the troubled relationship between Washington and Beijing is likely to overshadow all other issues.

Tensions between the world’s two largest powers are felt particularly acutely in Southeast Asia, which is home to the territorial disputes of the South China Sea and is dependent on trade with China. Both Washington and Beijing have sought to court ASEAN states in the past—China was particularly successful at blocking an ASEAN consensus on the South China Sea by influencing Cambodia to stymie agreement.

Today’s most pressing concern for ASEAN is to mitigate the economic fallout from the ongoing trade war between the US and China. In particular, negotiations over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes ASEAN states, China, Japan and India but not the US, are expected to be progressed over the coming days.

NOTE: A previous version of this briefing referenced the signing of a free trade deal between Australia and Indonesia. This has now been delayed.

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