Leaders from Southeast Asia will head to Washington DC this week for a summit with US President Joe Biden, seen here virtually participating in the previous ASEAN Summit from the White House in Washington DC in October 2021.
Nicholas Kamm | Afp | fake images
In the midst of the war in Ukraine is Washington’s top foreign policy priority, President Joe Biden will host Southeast Asian leaders in Washington, signaling America’s commitment to the region where it is engaged in a struggle for dominance with China.
Some critical issues, such as the post-Covid economy revival, climate change and the coup in Myanmar will be on the table at the two-day meeting starting on Thursday. Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a bloc of 10 countries that together make up the world’s seventh largest economy, will be there.
Security issues are likely to be on the table at the summit, Ong Keng Yong, a former ASEAN secretary general, told CNBC.
“It is inevitable that issues of geopolitics and international security will be raised and discussed, but in this regard, I do not expect any dramatic movement,” Ong said, adding: “The United States needs to be more present in Southeast Asian countries.” .”
The White House has said the summit will “demonstrate America’s enduring commitment to ASEAN…and commemorate 45 years of US-ASEAN relations.”
The United States has often emphasized the “centrality of ASEAN” in its Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China. This emphasis gives the region, populated by nations unwilling to openly choose between the US and China, some bargaining power.
Ong, who is also Singapore’s ambassador-at-large, said Asia offered enough to keep the United States engaged despite its concerns about the war in Ukraine. “Since the end of World War II, it is obvious that Europe comes first to the United States before any other region of the world,” he said.
“However, the people of ASEAN believe that American resiliency and vitality will find on the Asian side of the Pacific Ocean something worth engaging with and ensuring America’s future prosperity.”
“ASEAN would like to see an economic framework with some concessions and a clearer strategy towards regional security, especially as it relates to the South China Sea,” Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council, told CNBC. Of Foreign Affairs.
Biden’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, released in February, states that Washington will explore opportunities for the Quad to work with Southeast Asian nations. But ASEAN would like to see more US support for initiatives led by the bloc.
Quad, officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is formed by the US, Australia, Japan and India in a strategic partnership aimed at countering China’s impending military presence in the Indo-Pacific.
Separately, Aukus is made up of Australia, the UK and the US, an Indo-Pacific security alliance that was launched last September.
“ASEAN would probably like to see more US support for its ASEAN-led mechanisms, as opposed to US-led minilateral groups like Quad and Aukus,” said Joanne Lin, a senior fellow at the Center for ASEAN Studies at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak. Institute in Singapore.
“US support for the ASEAN Indo-Pacific Outlook will be important,” Lin added, referring to the document adopted in 2019 where ASEAN details its geostrategic concept of the Indo-Pacific region after former President Donald Trump will publish his vision of a free and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
People in many parts of the Southeast Asian region see US interests primarily as a competition between American liberal democracy and Asian conservatism, said Ong, a former ASEAN secretary-general.
“Sure, we have various forms of autocratic rule in different parts of ASEAN. However, there are many areas where mutually rewarding joint initiatives can be undertaken to deepen ties on a broader canvas,” Ong said.
Indo-Pacific economic framework
The US may discuss the Indo-Pacific economic framework that Biden announced at last year’s East Asia Summit. This could include new approaches to trade, security of supply chains and clean energy.
“While the US is still developing the content of the framework, it is unlikely to impress ASEAN,” according to Lin of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “Lack of market access and high labor and environmental standards may not go down well with several ASEAN countries.”
There may be “some progress on the Indo-Pacific economic framework, but binding commitments from the US are unlikely,” CFR’s Kurlantzick said, adding that expectations from the summit will be “pretty low” given that many other things are happening in the world. .
Two ASEAN countries will not be represented at the meeting with Biden: outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who took power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup in February 2021.