Photo: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters
President Joe Biden holds a summit with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and says that a ‘new era’ of relationship between the US and the 10-country faction is underway.
The 2-day U.S.-ASEAN summit kicked off on Thursday, May 12, amid increasing tensions in the Asia Pacific.
Biden says that “a great deal of history of our world in the next 50 years is going to be written in the ASEAN countries, and our relationship with you is the future, in the coming years and decades.”
The summit is the first time since 2016 when ASEAN leaders were invited to a gathering in the US. The US administration is hopeful that the newly established ties with ASEAN could help them focus on the issues challenging the countries, particularly on the long-standing interest of China to secure resources in the Indo-Pacific.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told ASEAN leaders earlier that the US intends to establish an extended presence in the region. According to her, US presence will help establish freedom of the seas and thwart forces that want to do otherwise.
Harris further expressed, “The United States and ASEAN have shared a vision for this region, and together we will guard against threats to international rules and norms.”
The United States promises to “stand” with its allies and to continue with its COVID response, having already delivered over 115 million vaccines in the region.
With hopes of strengthening the relationship among the countries, the Biden administration will donate $150 million to help in security, infrastructure, pandemic preparedness, and other priority programs.
However, the offer pales in comparison to the $1.5 billion development assistance from China to the surrounding Asian nations in boosting their economy and fighting COVID-19.
The summit was attended by most ASEAN leaders, including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, except the Philippine President and Myanmar’s leader, who was denied attendance after a coup last year. PH President Rodrigo Duterte was only represented by his foreign minister — this was following Duterte’s announcement that he would prioritize the PH government’s transition after the national polls.
Biden says that the US will deploy Coast Guard vessels to counter China’s illegal fishing. Other agendas include infrastructure projects, initially named “Build Back Better World,” the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), and the call to push back against Moscow.
ASEAN leaders were quick to applaud the plans of the US to intervene in the ongoing territorial disputes in the region. However, some leaders expressed concern regarding ramifications should the US exert influence over the disputes.
Territories of Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines have been affected by Beijing’s claim of sovereignty over vast areas in the South China Sea.
Many leaders have reservations about the proposition as many have strong economic ties with China. According to Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the US needs to craft more “active” trade and investment programs with ASEAN.
Yaakob mentioned that China is already starting economic ties with Asian countries via the Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership (RECP), which not only promises to enhance regional business and economic activity but also to reduce trade barriers.
PM Yaakob explained, “To further their growth, I would encourage U.S. businesses to tap into the largest FTA, with a market covering 15 countries, comprising 2.3 billion, or nearly a third of the global population and world GDP, and take advantage of the vast investment opportunities presented.”
Opinions expressed by NY Weekly contributors are their own.