G-20 News

Biden greets ASEAN leaders as he tries to show Pacific attention

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden hosts leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as his administration strives to demonstrate that the United States has not lost sight of the Pacific, even in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

As Biden prepared to host leaders from eight ASEAN countries for a dinner Thursday to kick off the two-day summit, the White House announced that the United States would commit more than $150 million in new projects to strengthen Southeast Asia’s climate, maritime and public transport. health infrastructure.

A senior administration official, who previewed the announcement on condition of anonymity, said the effort was meant to signal that the United States was looking to “step up our game in Southeast Asia.”

The rally marked the group’s first meeting at the White House in its 45-year history. The leaders will participate in more formal talks at the State Department on Friday.

ASEAN countries include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The leaders of the other two ASEAN members, Myanmar and the Philippines, are not attending the summit.

The special summit in Washington comes ahead of Biden’s trip next week to South Korea and Japan – his first visit to Asia as president – for talks with leaders of those two countries. He will also meet during this trip with leaders of the Indo-Pacific strategic alliance with the United States known as the Quad: Australia, India and Japan.

Biden attempted to place greater emphasis on this alliance and improve relations with Pacific nations early in his presidency, as he sees a rising China as the most threatening adversary to states’ economic and national security. -United.

Biden, who has pledged to make the Pacific a bigger focal point of American policy, has seen his bid for an “Asian pivot” complicated by the worst fighting in Europe since World War II.

A White House political adviser for Asia said the administration remains committed to intensifying relations with Southeast Asian countries to address climate, economic and education initiatives.

“There was a feeling that in previous administrations we had gone off with a determined pace to focus on East Asia or the Indo-Pacific, and then we were left with other pressing challenges that we maybe a little bit apart,” Kurt Campbell, coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs at the White House National Security Council, said Wednesday. “I think there’s a deep feeling that this can’t happen again.”

The new US investment in ASEAN countries includes $40 million for clean energy infrastructure, $60 million for a new regional maritime initiative, and $6 million to accelerate digital development in the region.

The White House also announced that the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University will launch a privately-funded institute for emerging leaders from ASEAN countries, which will bring in mid-career officials from the sector. public in the United States for leadership training.

The outgoing president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is skipping the ASEAN summit because his country is in political transition. ASEAN has banned Myanmar – in crisis since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021 – from sending all but non-governmental leaders to ASEAN meetings.

The Biden administration has condemned the military coup that led to Suu Kyi’s ousting. She was found guilty by a military court last month of corruption and sentenced to five years in prison in the first of several corruption cases against her. Suu Kyi has denied the charges.

Biden is also expected to address the situation in Myanmar with ASEAN leaders, as well as discuss China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Campbell said the administration expects the private talks to be “direct, polite, but maybe at times a little uncomfortable” because the United States and ASEAN members are not on the same wavelength on all issues. He said the administration wanted to see the group “play a more deeply engaged role in critical diplomacy regarding next steps” in Myanmar.

Biden has called for Russia to be disinvited from the Group of 20 summit scheduled for November because of its invasion of Ukraine. ASEAN member Indonesia, which holds the G-20 presidency this year, has resisted calls to withdraw Moscow’s invitation.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the presumptive winner of this week’s Philippine presidential election, could test American influence in the region. The son and namesake of the country’s former dictator said he wanted to pursue closer ties with China.

He received congratulatory calls from Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. His campaign said Marcos Jr. also met with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian on Thursday, who said Beijing wants to take cooperation between the two countries to “new heights”.

Campbell acknowledged that “historical considerations” could present “challenges” to the relationship with Marcos Jr., an apparent reference to long-running litigation in the United States against the estate of his father, Ferdinand Marcos.

In 1996, a US appeals court upheld damages of approximately $2 billion against the estate of the elder Marcos for the torture and murder of thousands of Filipinos. The court upheld a 1994 verdict by a jury in Hawaii, where he fled after being ousted from power in 1986. He died there in 1989.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she was “not aware” whether the litigation or China came up during Biden’s call with Marcos Jr.