ASEAN Summit: Biden pledges US to cooperate with Southeast Asian countries

Phnom Penh, Cambodia –

President Joe Biden promised Saturday that the United States would work with a strategically important alliance of Southeast Asian nations, telling leaders that “we will build a better future.” that we all want to see” in a region where US rival China is also present. work to expand its influence.

Citing three Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits he has attended as president, Biden said the 10-nation bloc is “at the heart of our Indo-Pacific strategy.” my administration” and promised to work together to build a region “free and open, stable and prosperous, resilient and secure.”

“I look forward to continuing our work together with ASEAN and with each one of you to deepen peace and prosperity in the region to address challenges from the South China Sea to Myanmar and to find new solutions to the problem. innovative solutions to common challenges,” Biden said, citing climate and health security issues among areas of cooperation.

Biden’s efforts at this year’s ASEAN summit lay the groundwork for his much-anticipated meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping – the first face-to-face meeting of Biden’s presidency with Mr. a leader that the United States currently considers the most powerful economically and socially. military opponents.

Biden and Xi will meet on Monday at the G20 summit bringing together leaders from the world’s biggest economies, to be held this year in Indonesia on the island of Bali.

During a visit to Phnom Penh early Saturday, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Mr Biden would raise issues such as freedom of navigation and illegal and unregulated fishing. China with ASEAN leaders – to show US assertiveness towards Beijing.

Freedom of navigation refers to a dispute involving the South China Sea, where the United States says it can sail and fly wherever international law allows and China believes such missions are undermining. destabilize. Sullivan said the United States’ primary role is to act as a stabilizing force in the region and to prevent any country from engaging in “prolonged intimidation and coercion that would be fundamentally detrimental to the ASEAN countries and other countries.”

“There’s a real demand signal for that,” Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on Saturday. Referring to the People’s Republic of China, Sullivan continued: “I think the People’s Republic of China may not like that fact, but they certainly acknowledge and understand it.”

A new initiative related to efforts Biden will discuss Saturday, said Sullivan, focuses on maritime awareness, specifically using radio frequencies from commercial satellites to track better track dark shipping and illegal fishing.

Biden’s visit to Cambodia – the second by a US president – further pushes his administration to show off investments in the South Pacific, highlighted earlier this year when the White House held a summit. ASEAN summit in Washington, the first of its kind. He also appointed one of his senior aides, Yohannes Abraham, as the official special envoy to ASEAN, another way the White House has emphasized that commitment.

ASEAN this year is elevating the US to the status of a “comprehensive strategic partner” – a largely symbolic enhancement to their relationship but one that puts Washington on a par with China, which has been awarded the distinction last year.

Biden opened Saturday in Phnom Penh with a meeting with Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, the host country of the regional summit. He also took part in a traditional family photo session with Southeast Asian leaders – a photo that needed to be redone because Biden was too busy to shake hands with other heads of state – and, later, will participate. attended a gala dinner organized by a parallel summit in Cambodia focusing on East Asia.

Another topic Biden focused on was Myanmar, where the military junta toppled the ruling government in February 2021 and arrested the democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. When meeting with Hun Sen, Biden emphasized that the United States was committed to restoring democracy in Myanmar, which had been gradually moving towards a form of democratic governance before the coup.

Biden also raised concerns about human rights in Cambodia. In a statement following his meeting with Hun Sen, the White House said Biden had urged the prime minister – an authoritarian ruler in a country nominally democratic – to “reopen civil and political space.” before the 2023 election.

Biden, according to the White House, also pushed Hun Sen to release activists including Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American lawyer who was convicted of treason as the prime minister’s long-ruling regime aimed to suppress oppress his opposition. The White House said Biden also raised concerns about activities at Ream Naval Base, an expansion that Cambodian officials have described as a collaborative effort between the base and China.

At the US-ASEAN summit, there was an empty seat that Myanmar’s representative would sit if the country’s leaders were not barred from participating in official ASEAN meetings.

In a brief speech on Saturday, Biden misidentified host country Cambodia as “Colombia,” something he also did on Thursday night when he left the United States.

Biden will participate in Sunday’s East Asia summit sessions, including a tripartite meeting with the leaders of South Korea and Japan, before setting off for the G-20 summit in Bali.

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