Last week, economic leaders from around the Asia-Pacific region gathered for the 25th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ meeting held in the pleasant seaside resort city of Da Nang, Vietnam.
Established in 1989, APEC is a regional economic forum comprising 21 member states, including Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam, and the meeting this year attracted over 10,000 delegates.
Much of the media attention focused on the speech of U.S. President Donald Trump and his vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” — with many regional leaders hoping for renewed U.S. interest in the region’s affairs. While Trump may have comforted many by sticking to a principles-based script and not tweeting, his “America First” policy left others worried they would end up on the losing end of any trade deal.
Beyond trade, Vietnamese leaders were also seeking U.S. backing for their claims in the South China Sea (known as the East Sea in Vietnam). Such support can come in more subtle forms than White House statements. In the months leading up to the APEC summit, U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil was encouraged by Hanoi to announce the official start of their $10 billion Blue Whale gas project during the summit.