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A woman walks past the national flags of Asean countries at the Suntec City convention and exhibition centre in Singapore in November 2018. Photo: AFP

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
The United States has decided to postpone a meeting with leaders of Southeast Asian countries it had planned to host on March 14 due to worries about the coronavirus outbreak, two US officials familiar with the matter said on Friday.
US President Donald Trump had invited leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( Asean) to meet in Las Vegas after he did not attend a summit with the group in Bangkok, Thailand, in November.

“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.

WHO upgrades global risk of coronavirus spread to ‘very high’

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 number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US is still relatively small at around 60, most of them repatriated American passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that docked in Japan.

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.

Kim warns of ‘serious consequences’ if virus breaks out in North Korea

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.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: US postpones summit amid virus fears