US President Joe Biden to host ASEAN leaders in mid-May

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with leaders of Southeast Asian nations in mid-May, with a likely focus on the rise of China, the host country announced on Saturday (April 16).

The summit, originally scheduled for March, “will demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to ASEAN,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement, referring to the Association of Nations of Southeast Asia (ASEAN).

“It is a top priority for the Biden-Harris administration to serve as a strong and reliable partner in Southeast Asia,” the statement said.

The summit, originally scheduled for March 28 and 29 before being postponed without a new date, will now take place on May 12 and 13.

The meeting was postponed amid reports that leaders of some ASEAN members were having scheduling conflicts and as the Ukraine crisis continued to escalate.

The United States has long declared that strengthening its ties with Asia is a foreign policy priority.

On March 29, Biden met at the White House with a key ASEAN member, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, and said he wanted to ensure the region remained “free and open” – a reference to what the United States sees as rising power China’s attempts to dominate international trade routes.

Biden had taken part in a virtual summit with ASEAN leaders in October.

At that summit, Psaki noted in his statement, Biden announced initiatives to expand U.S. engagement with ASEAN on Covid-19, climate change, economic growth and more.

Tense competition with China has become one of the biggest foreign policy challenges for the United States, though other issues — the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine — have demanded more urgent attention.

ASEAN members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Several of them have experienced growing friction with Beijing.

Saturday’s US statement did not say whether Myanmar leaders would actually attend. The administration accused the country’s military leaders of perpetrating “genocide” against the Rohingya minority.

ASEAN has sought – unsuccessfully so far – to find a diplomatic solution since the army seized power there in a coup in 2021. AFP

Kevin E. Boling