Bangkok A principle for good relations with Asia has been in place among Western diplomats for years: whoever is present is half the battle.
Especially among the continent’s smaller and medium-sized economies such as Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, high-ranking, personal contacts at the level of heads of state and government are seen as a sign of respect – and as an important symbol that the other side is serious when it comes to deepening of cooperation is discussed.
The disappointment was all the greater when it became known that US President Joe Biden preferred a family event in Washington to attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Thai capital Bangkok.
The trip to the Apec summit would not have been far for Biden
Biden was previously at a summit in Cambodia and the G20 meeting in Indonesia. So the trip to Thailand would not have been far – and would have been worthwhile to show the region an economic perspective away from China.
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But due to his absence, Biden has chosen his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as the star guest at the most important economic meeting in the Asia-Pacific region. Xi takes the opportunity to present himself as the region’s leading power – and to paint a picture that presents China as the guarantor of security and prosperity for its neighbors. The US President cannot oppose this from afar.
This also offers a lesson for the federal government. It took more than a decade, after Angela Merkel’s last visit to Southeast Asia, until a German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, traveled to the region. It met with a positive response from Vietnam to Singapore to Indonesia.
In order not to lose momentum, however, he will have to be more present than his predecessor in the future.
More: ‘An Unnecessary Mistake’: US Leaving Stage to Xi Jinping