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Trump's absence at the ASEAN summit signals the US is 'not as committed' to Asia

Key Points
  • Trump's planned absence has raised questions about his commitment to Asia Pacific, as regional powers such as China, Japan and India seek to enlist support for a multilateral trading system.
  • "Optics are very very important — and statements and symbolisms. Who comes, what's on the table, what's on the agenda," said Alex Capri, visiting senior fellow at the National University of Singapore. 
Donald Trump announces his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower in New York City.
Christopher Gregory | Getty Images News | Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump was notably absent when the ASEAN summit kicked off in Singapore this week — a sign Washington may not be "as committed to Asia" as its regional allies would like it to be, said Alex Capri, visiting senior fellow at the National University of Singapore.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is representing Trump at the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, and is expected to lay out details of America's free and open Indo-Pacific vision during his Asia tour.

Trump's planned absence has raised questions about his commitment to Asia Pacific, as regional powers such as China, Japan and India seek to enlist support for a multilateral trading system.

The no-show signals that "the U.S. is maybe not as committed to the region as some of its allies would like to seem it," Capri told CNBC on Thursday.

"Optics are very very important — and statements and symbolisms. Who comes, what's on the table, what's on the agenda," said Capri. "If Trump were to come out I think it would have been a much more symbolic that ... this was more important."

Pence can get things done

However, not everyone agrees.

"There's a perception issue around the president not attending. But I think if you actually want to get things done and actually want to send serious messages to people, (Pence) can do that very very well," Dane Chamorro, senior partner at Control Risks, a strategic consulting firm, told CNBC.

"I would not underestimate him," Chamorro added, saying that Pence is very capable of representing U.S. interests in a thoughtful well-informed way.

The ASEAN meetings this week are expected to renew calls for multilateralism and fresh pledges to resolve regional conflicts ranging from the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar to tensions in the South China Sea.

- Reuters and CNBC's Nyshka Chandran contributed to this article

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