Biden hosts ASEAN as he seeks to show commitment to the Pacific

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden receives leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as his administration makes a major effort to show that the United States has not lost focus on the Pacific even as it deals with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Biden will begin his talks Thursday night over dinner with leaders from the eight ASEAN countries attending the two-day summit. It will be the group’s first meeting at the White House. The leaders will take part in more formal talks at the State Department on Friday.

ASEAN countries include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Leaders from the other two ASEAN members, Myanmar and the Philippines, are not expected to attend the summit.

The special summit in Washington comes before Biden embarks on a whirlwind visit to South Korea and Japan next week – his first visit to Asia as president – to speak with the leaders of those two countries. He will also meet with leaders of the Indo-Pacific strategic alliance with the US known as the Quad during the trip: Australia, India and Japan.


Biden has attempted to focus more on the quad and improving ties with Pacific nations early in his presidency, as he sees a rising China as the United States’ most threatening economic and national security adversary.

Biden, who has vowed to make the Pacific a greater focus of US policy, his attempt at an “Asia fulcrum” has been complicated by the heaviest fighting in Europe since World War II, which has claimed much of his foreign policy breadth of late have taken months.

A senior White House Asia policy adviser said the administration remains committed to strengthening ties with Southeast Asian nations to address climate, economic and education initiatives.

“There was a sense that in previous administrations we had embarked at a determined pace to focus on East Asia or the Indo-Pacific and then faced other pressing challenges that might be pulling (us) away a little.” Kurt Campbell , coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs at the White House National Security Council, said Wednesday at an event hosted by the US Institute of Peace. “I think there’s a deep feeling that that can’t happen again.”


Outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is skipping the summit. The bloc has blocked Myanmar — which has been gripped by crisis since the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021 — from sending all but non-state leaders to the meetings.

The Biden government condemned the military coup that led to the ouster of Suu Kyi. She was found guilty of corruption by a military court last month and sentenced to five years in prison in the first of several corruption trials against her. Suu Kyi has denied the allegations.

Biden is also expected to address the situation in Myanmar with ASEAN leaders and talk about China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Campbell said the government expects the private talks to be “direct, polite but maybe a little awkward at times” as US and ASEAN members are not on the same page on all issues.

Biden has called for Russia to be excluded from the planned G20 summit in November over its invasion of Ukraine. ASEAN member Indonesia, which chairs the Group of 20 this year, has defied calls to withdraw Moscow’s invitation.


At a virtual summit with ASEAN leaders last year, Biden said Washington will seek to start talks with Pacific nations on developing a regional economic framework. Campbell said the Indo-Pacific economic framework would be discussed during this year’s summit, although it was unclear how substantive the talks would be.

Japan’s Ambassador to Washington Tomita Koji said earlier this week at another forum in Washington that the framework could be rolled out during Biden’s upcoming visit to Japan.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Biden hosts ASEAN as he seeks to show commitment to the Pacific

Joel McCord

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