Biden will host Southeast Asian leaders as he tries to bring the focus back to China

WASHINGTON — President Biden plans to host the leaders of Southeast Asian nations at the White House on Thursday and Friday, delivering a message of solidarity and aiming to provide a bulwark against Chinese influence in the region, even as large part of his administration remains focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The two-day summit will cover a variety of topics, including trade, human rights and climate change, but it’s also part of an effort by Biden’s foreign policy team to highlight one of the president’s main goals: putting together a front. united against China. as it increasingly demonstrates its economic and military might around the world.

As a candidate, Biden promised to make China a central focus of his foreign policy. Instead, a senior administration official acknowledged to reporters Wednesday that the war in Europe had created daily demands that had drained the time and energy of the president and his team.

But the official, who requested anonymity to discuss preparations for the summit, said Biden remained concerned and focused on the need to prevent China from dominating the Indo-Pacific. The meeting of 10 world leaders in Washington for two days is an opportunity to demonstrate that commitment, the official said.

Mr. Biden will also travel to Japan and South Korea from May 20-24, a trip that will focus largely on China. White House officials have not provided details about the trip, but he is expected to meet with other leaders of the other Quad countries: India, Japan and Australia.

On Thursday, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers before meeting in a Washington hotel to discuss business opportunities with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. , and executives from American industries. Mr. Biden plans to host the leaders for what the administration official said would be an intimate dinner at the White House on Thursday night.

On Friday, Asian leaders will meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in the morning and then with Mr. Biden at the White House later in the day.

According to the administration official, the group will discuss business opportunities, transit through disputed waterways, including the South China Sea, and other issues.

One of them is likely to be Myanmar, one of the group’s members, where Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted as the country’s civilian leader last year when the military staged a coup. The administration official said the United States and countries in the region were focused on the situation and frustrated by it.

He said planners for Thursday’s summit were considering placing an empty chair in the room where the leaders were meeting to record their disapproval.

The summit will also be an opportunity for Ms. Harris to demonstrate her focus on the region. He led a US delegation to Asia last summer, using a speech in Singapore to decry China’s “illegal claims” to the South China Sea, which he said “undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations.”

The administration official said Ms Harris planned to use Friday’s meeting with Asian leaders to focus more directly on climate action, clean energy and sustainable infrastructure.

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