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International relations

Five ASEAN leaders to attend 'olive branch' summit with US

Members want South China Sea in spotlight as Washington refocuses on region

U.S. national security adviser Robert O'Brien attended the ASEAN summit and related events in Bangkok in November 2019, in place of President Donald Trump.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Leaders from Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Cambodia and Thailand will attend a summit between the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next month, diplomatic sources told Nikkei.

Southeast Asian officials regard the meeting, set for March 14 in Las Vegas, as an olive branch from Washington after President Donald Trump skipped the annual ASEAN summit in November.

The five other ASEAN members also intend to participate in the March meeting, though they have not decided whom to send. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will not attend.

The Trump administration said it will discuss joint human development projects, amid speculation that security issues and the South China Sea will be among the topics as well.

Several ASEAN members have territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, and some of the Southeast Asian countries hope for greater involvement by the U.S. to curb Chinese development in those waters.

Trump did not attend the regular ASEAN gathering in 2018 or 2019, and he sent national security adviser Robert O'Brien instead last year to Bangkok. Only three ASEAN leaders met with O'Brien.

Though ASEAN has responded positively to the invitation for the March meeting, the event could be postponed if the coronavirus outbreak escalates further.

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