Before setting off for what was planned as his 12-day tour of Asia, President Trump announced he would be spending “an extra day” in the Philippines to attend “a second conference.” White House officials confirmed that the announcement means Trump has changed his mind and will now attend the East Asia Summit on Nov. 14, a major meeting of Asian and world powers.
Last week, I reported that Trump would not go to the summit, which President Barack Obama attended five out of the past six years. The meeting, taking place in the Filipino city of Angeles, includes the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India and South Korea, along with the United States.
The summit focuses heavily on security and regional strategy, and Trump’s absence would be seen as a slight to the region and the host organization. Although the White House never offered a public reason for the decision, officials told me that it was entirely “schedule-based” and that there was concern Trump would grow cranky if the trip went too long.
A spokesman for the National Security Council confirmed that Trump had changed his mind but declined to say why. Two White House officials told me on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal proceedings that Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis both urged Trump to go the summit and that their views ultimately prevailed.
Pence even offered to go in Trump’s place, officials said, but was reminded that tradition says the president and vice president can’t be abroad at the same time, for security reasons.
Experts critical of the initial decision praised Trump’s change of heart.
“The reversal tells us something very important: Trump is learning about and places a high priority on Asia,” said Ernest Bower, senior adviser for the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Credit to him and his national security team on this adjustment.”