US to postpone summit with Asean leaders over coronavirus concerns, officials say in U-turn
- Meeting was expected to be held in Las Vegas on March 14
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said as recently as Monday that preparations were going ahead in spite of outbreak
“As the international community works together to defeat the novel coronavirus, the United States, in consultation with Asean partners, has made the difficult decision to postpone the Asean leaders meeting,” said one of the sources, a senior administration official.
The official added that the US values its relationships with Asean member nations and looks forward to future meetings.
A spokesperson for the US State Department provided an identical statement.
The US-Asean Business Council said it was aware of the decision and said a major technology summit it was planning on the sidelines of the leaders’ meeting was also being postponed.
“We look forward to working closely with US and Asean leadership to ensure the success of this important engagement at a later date,” the council’s vice president, Elizabeth Dugan, said in statement.
The postponements come amid growing fears that the virus will spread in the US as countries report new infections, companies announce curbs on employees’ travel and global stock markets continue to plummet.
The coronavirus outbreak started in China late last year. At least 85,000 people have been infected, and more than 2,900 have died from the Covid-19 disease.
While the outbreak appears to be easing in China, it has surged elsewhere and territories other than China now account for about three-quarters of new infections.
Although the State Department has repeatedly stated that ASEAN is at the heart of its strategy to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific” in the face of rising Chinese power, Trump’s decision not to attend the Bangkok meeting had raised questions about the U.S. commitment to the region.
Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review earlier this month quoted diplomatic sources as saying that leaders from Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Cambodia and Thailand had planned to attend the Las Vegas summit.