When it comes to diplomacy in Asia, showing up is half the battle. But President Trump couldn’t be bothered to attend two key Asia-related summits last weekend, even though they were held virtually. This was the lame-duck president’s latest and hopefully last insult to the United States’ Asian allies — and an unforced error in the greater competition with China.

For the third year in a row, Trump declined to participate in the annual summit of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes a meeting between leaders of the group’s 10 member nations and the United States. The president was also a no-show for the East Asia Summit, which President Barack Obama began attending in 2011. And Trump wasn’t the only one. For the first time in this administration, no Cabinet-level official participated in either event. No travel was required; all they had to do was call in to corresponding video forums.

The high-level snub wasn’t just a missed opportunity to shore up relationships with countries the United States needs to work with on security, trade and public health. The United States’ absence also left a vacuum Beijing was happy to fill, signing a trade pact with 14 other Asian countries the same weekend.

“In Asia, showing up is important, and the relationships matter,” said Derek Mitchell, former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar. “It’s really a travesty, and it undermines all the Trump administration’s pretensions of having a thoughtful and strategic approach to the China challenge. If you are seeking to demonstrate you are a resident power in Asia in competition with China, you need to act like it.”

National security adviser Robert O’Brien, who is not Cabinet-level, participated in both events on behalf of the United States. He emphasized the importance of the relationships between the United States and Southeast Asian countries, especially due to the need to jointly address the coronavirus pandemic. “The United States has your back and we know you have ours,” he said in remarks for the opening ceremony of the ASEAN event.

The head of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council said in a statement that the group was “deeply disappointed” that the U.S. president, the vice president or any Cabinet member failed to make the effort.

Trump has made his disdain for these types of international leaders’ meetings crystal clear. As I reported in 2017, Trump planned to skip the East Asia Summit that year in Vietnam even though he was already in the country. He then changed his mind and decided to stay one extra day to attend. But the meeting was running about two hours late, so he changed his mind and took off, leaving Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his place.

In 2018, Vice President Pence attended the ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Papua New Guinea. He met with several foreign leaders and was generally well received. But in 2019, the U.S. delegation to the ASEAN summit in Thailand was led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and O’Brien. Most ASEAN leaders declined to attend the session O’Brien chaired in Bangkok because of the lack of more senior U.S. government representation.

What had more senior Trump administration officials too busy to call in to two major summits with America’s Asian allies? Trump was holed up in the White House this past weekend, tweeting conspiracy theories about the election he just lost. Pence was on a bus tour of Georgia and attended the launch of the SpaceX vehicle at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sunday.

Outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Paris this past weekend. Pompeo then traveled on to Turkey, where he spoke about “religious liberty” but had zero official meetings. He will also visit a West Bank settlement this week, becoming the first secretary of state to do so. In other words, U.S. taxpayers are paying for a low-substance Pompeo farewell tour around Europe and the Middle East, while he couldn’t find time to phone in to two important diplomatic meetings in Asia, which would cost nothing.

The trade deal China signed with 14 Asian countries this past weekend, called the Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership, is not just about trade, Mitchell said. It’s about whether countries facing intense pressure from Beijing believe the United States is a credible alternative partner. “It’s as much symbolism as anything, but symbolism matters in Asia,” he said.

While many countries in Asia have appreciated the Trump administration’s turn toward a more competitive strategy to push back on Beijing’s regional expansion and aggression, they lament that the United States has not put forth a comprehensive alternative to the flawed agreements and deals offered by Beijing.

The incoming Biden administration is expected to resume high-level engagement with multilateral organizations and resume sending high-level officials to attend key multilateral events. But that will not solve the United States’ credibility and trust problems in the region overnight. Showing up is just the first necessary step.