US Defence Secretary James Mattis will participate in the annual ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore today. He arrives in
US Defence Secretary James Mattis will participate in the annual ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore today.
He arrives in Singapore with his job under a cloud, despite hosing down speculation of his looming departure after President Donald Trump suggested that Mattis may leave his post.
ASEAN is split on the US and China vying for influence in the region. US regional strategy has called for Mattis to navigate this tightrope by studiously cultivating ties with individual countries, especially those bordering the South China Sea, where the US opposes China’s island-building. To illustrate ASEAN’s division, China’s island-building will likely not be on the agenda.
To counter this, Mattis’ focus this trip will be knitting ever closer ties with Vietnam. Historic visits of aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, to Da Nang and Mattis’ pre-meeting trip to Ho Chi Minh city—key symbols of the Vietnam War—are bilateral confidence-building measures to grow the relationship. Vietnam demonstrates Mattis’s relationship-building skills in a region where diplomacy leans heavily on delicate personal relationships. Therefore, Mattis’ departure risks an impact on US strategy in the region. Should Mattis go, strategy will remain the same but the diplomatic success of that strategy may take a hit.
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