Biden to host ASEAN summit at White House

Southeast Asian leaders will travel to Washington DC this week for a summit with US President Joe Biden, here seen attending the previous ASEAN summit virtually from the White House in Washington DC in October 2021.

Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

In the midst of the Ukrainian war which is Washington’s top foreign policy priority, President Joe Biden welcomes Southeast Asian leaders to Washington – signaling US engagement in the region where it is engaged in a struggle for dominance with China.

Some critical issues – like the post-Covid economic situation recovery, climate change and the Myanmar coup – will be on the table at the two-day meeting starting Thursday. Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a bloc of 10 countries that together form the world’s seventh-largest economy, will attend.

Security issues will likely be on the table at the summit, Ong Keng Yong, former ASEAN secretary general, told CNBC.

“It is inevitable that geopolitical and international security issues will be raised and discussed, but in this respect I do not expect any dramatic change,” Ong said, adding, “It is necessary for the United States to be more present in Southeast Asian countries.

The White House said the summit would “demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to ASEAN, … and commemorate 45 years of U.S.-ASEAN relations.”

The United States has often emphasized the “centrality of ASEAN” in its Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China. That focus gives the region — populated by nations unwilling to openly choose between the United States and China — some bargaining power.

ASEAN would like to see an economic framework with some concessions and a clearer strategy towards regional security, particularly involving the South China Sea.

Joshua Kurlantzick

Council on Foreign Relations

Ong, who is also Singapore’s roving ambassador, said Asia offered enough to keep the United States engaged despite its concern over the war in Ukraine. “Since the end of the Second World War, it has been obvious that Europe has come before the United States before any other region of the world,” he said.

“Nevertheless, the people of ASEAN believe that American resilience and vitality will find in the Asian part of the Pacific Ocean something interesting to engage with and ensure American prosperity in the future.”

“ASEAN would like to see an economic framework with some concessions and a clearer regional security strategy, particularly involving the South China Sea,” a senior Southeast Asia researcher at the Council told CNBC. on Foreign Relations, Joshua Kurlantzick.

Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy, released in February, says Washington will explore opportunities for the Quad to work with Southeast Asian countries. But ASEAN would like to see more US support for initiatives led by the bloc.

Quad, officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is made up of the United States, Australia, Japan, and India in a strategic partnership to counter China’s impending military presence in the Indo- Peaceful.

Separately, Aukus is made up of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, an Indo-Pacific security alliance launched last September.

“ASEAN would likely like to see more US support for its ASEAN-led mechanisms, as opposed to US-led mini-lateral groupings such as Quad and Aukus,” said Joanne Lin, senior researcher at the Center for from ASEAN to ISEAS-Yusof Ishak. Institute in Singapore.

“US support for ASEAN’s prospects in the Indo-Pacific will be significant,” Lin added, referring to the document adopted in 2019 in which ASEAN clarified its geostrategic concept of the Indo-Pacific region after the Former President Donald Trump has released his vision for a free and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

In many parts of Southeast Asia, people view American interests as a competition between American liberal democracy and Asian conservatism, said Ong, the former ASEAN secretary general.

“Of course, we have various forms of autocratic governance in different parts of ASEAN. Yet there are many areas where mutually rewarding joint initiatives can be undertaken to deepen ties on a broader web,” Ong said.

Indo-Pacific economic framework

It is possible that the United States will discuss the Indo-Pacific economic framework that was announced by Biden at last year’s East Asia summit. This could include new approaches to trade, securing supply chains and clean energy.

“While the United States is still fleshing out the contents of the framework, it is unlikely to impress ASEAN,” according to Lin of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “Lack of market access and high labor and environmental standards may not suit many ASEAN countries.”

There may be “some progress on the Indo-Pacific economic framework, but the U.S. is unlikely to make any binding commitments,” CFR’s Kurlantzick said, adding that expectations for the summit will be “pretty low — given that there’s so much else going on in the world. .

Two ASEAN countries will not be represented at the meeting with Biden: incumbent Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Burmese junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who took power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi during a coup in February 2021.

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