Biden welcomes ‘new era’ in ties with Southeast Asia at key summit News from politics

Biden welcomes ‘new era’ in ties with Southeast Asia at key summit  News from politics

The United States is committed to engaging in Southeast Asia, President Joe Biden said, hailing a summit with leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEA) in Washington, DC as a “new era” in the relationship.

Speaking on the second day of the two-day meeting, Biden told leaders Friday that “a large part of the history of our world will be written in ASEAN countries over the next 50 years.”

“And our relationship with you is the future for years and decades to come,” he said.

The summit is the first time in 45 years that ASEAN leaders have been invited to the White House. In 2016, President Obama became the first US head of state to host the summit, then held in Rancho Mirage, California.

“We are ushering in a new era — a new era — in US-ASEAN relations,” Biden said.

Joe Biden addresses ASEAN leaders at a summit in Washington
Biden delivers remarks during US-ASEAN special summit at US State Department [Leah Millis/Reuters]

In a speech before the State Department on Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris told leaders that the Biden administration “recognizes the critical strategic importance of your region, a role that will only grow over time.”

“As an Indo-Pacific nation, the United States will have a presence and engagement in Southeast Asia for generations to come,” she said.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the agenda, the Biden administration hoped to show Washington’s continued focus on the Asia-Pacific region as Beijing becomes an increasingly powerful player in the region.

Tensions between China and the US have grown in recent years over a variety of issues, including Taiwan and the South China Sea, which China claims almost all of its own despite competing claims from other countries in the region.

The war in Ukraine has tested these already shaky relations, with top US officials, including President Joe Biden himself, repeatedly warning the Chinese government against helping Russia in its ongoing invasion.

The opening session of Friday’s ASEAN meeting at the State Department focused on maritime safety and health issues, Harris said, while a later session focused on climate and clean energy.

She didn’t mention China directly, but said the US stands with its “allies and partners in defense of the maritime rules-based order, which includes freedom of navigation and international law.”

Biden took office in January 2021 and said his top foreign policy priority is global competition with China.

His administration already pledged $150 million during the summit for new initiatives, including support for maritime safety, with the US Coast Guard deploying a cutter in Southeast Asia to help fight illegal fishing and other crime.

Biden is expected to announce a broader package, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, when he travels to Japan and South Korea next week.

Ahead of a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said she hoped to “see synergies between the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the implementation of cooperation under the ASEAN Indo-Pacific Outlook.”

Marsudi also stressed that Indonesia, which is hosting a G20 summit in July, hopes the war in Ukraine will end as soon as possible.

Indonesia has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to the meeting, despite US calls to isolate him, but said in a compromise it would also welcome Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“Regarding the global issue, I would like to emphasize Indonesia’s very consistent principle that it is important to respect one country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over another country,” Marsudi said, according to a foreign ministry statement.

“We hope that the war in Ukraine will end as soon as possible, and we give a chance to peaceful resolution of a conflict. Because we know that if the war continues, we will all suffer.”

For his part, Blinken thanked Marsudi for Indonesia’s leadership in the region.

“We work together across the board to advance a shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. We are working to strengthen economic ties between countries in the region. We work together to tackle global challenges like COVID-19,” he said.

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