Nationwide Safety Advisor O’Brien to Signify US at Asia Conferences By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien takes off his face mask during a meeting with the President of the Sao Paulo Industrial Association in Sao Paulo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien will represent the United States in consecutive virtual summits with Asian countries this weekend, the White House said on Friday.

O’Brien will lead the US delegation in talks with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) starting on Friday evening in the US or Saturday morning in Asia.

He will be attending a broader East Asia Summit on Sunday, where 15 Asia-Pacific economies – excluding the United States – are expected to sign a China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that could become the world’s largest free trade agreement.

The White House has not yet said who will represent the United States at a meeting of heads of state and government of a larger group of Pacific states, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC), next Friday.

It will be the third year in a row that the United States has had a relatively low level of representation at meetings in East Asia, despite the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump making Asia-Pacific and competition with China a foreign policy priority.

Trump is busy questioning the results of last week’s U.S. presidential election and has refused to concede defeat to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who is due to take office in January.

“Ambassador O’Brien will reaffirm the United States’ commitment to prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific during virtual speeches,” the White House said in a statement.

A trade war between the US and China and Trump’s “America First” withdrawal of Barack Obama’s “pivot” towards Asia have stimulated the completion of the RCEP, widely seen as Beijing’s opportunity to set a regional trade agenda.

Biden’s election victory could call this into question as the former vice president signals a return to greater multilateralism, even though trade movements may not be his first priority.

While Trump attended the US-ASEAN summit in Manila in 2017, he has never attended a full EAS meeting. Vice President Mike Pence represented the United States at meetings in Singapore last year.

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