Biden arrives in Cambodia seeking to counter China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

President Joe Biden stressed the US partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Saturday as “the heart of my administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy” as he seeks to counter China’s growing influence ahead of a high-stakes meeting with Chinese President Xi. Jinping is set for Monday.

Come weekend of meetings in Cambodia before The G20 summit expected next week In Indonesia, where he will meet Biden Xi for the first time in person since taking office. The ASEAN meetings – along with Sunday’s East Asia Summit, which is also being held in Phnom Penh – will be an opportunity for the president to speak with US allies before sitting down with Xi.

In remarks to the summit, Biden announced “another critical step” toward building on the group’s progress as he detailed the launch of the US-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which, he said, “will address the biggest issues of our time, from climate to health security, and defense against threats.” The big rules-based order and threats to the rule of law build a free, open, stable, prosperous, resilient and secure Indo-Pacific.” He praised the current US financial commitments to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as he noted a budget request of $850 million in aid to Southeast Asia.

“This is my third trip, my third summit – my second personally – and it is a testament to the importance the United States places in our relationship with ASEAN and our commitment to ASEAN centrality. ASEAN is the heart of my administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy. We We continue to strengthen our commitment to work apace with an ASEAN Association with a unified mandate.”

The president’s first act in Cambodia was a bilateral meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen as he looks to build on a summit between Biden and ASEAN leaders in Washington earlier this year.

Biden, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, told reporters aboard Air Force One, “he has been intent on elevating our engagement in the Indo-Pacific” since the beginning of his presidency, and his presence at the ASEAN and East Asia summits this weekend will highlight his work. So far, including the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework announced earlier this year and Security Partnership efforts.

“He came to this set of summits with the track record and the goal behind him, and he wants to be able to use the next 36 hours to build on that foundation to move forward with American involvement, and also to deliver a tangible streak,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan noted that among these practical initiatives are new initiatives in the field of maritime cooperation, digital connectivity, and economic investment. Biden is set to launch a new effort in the maritime domain “focusing on using radio frequencies from commercial satellites to be able to track dark shipping and illegal and unregulated fishing, as well as to improve the ability of countries in the region to respond to disasters,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan added that Biden will also highlight a “diffuse forward attitude” toward regional defense, to show that the United States is at the forefront of security cooperation.

During his remarks, Biden also referred to a new electric vehicle infrastructure initiative between the United States and ASEAN.

“We will work together to develop an integrated electric vehicle ecosystem in Southeast Asia, enabling the region to pursue ambitious clean energy, economic development, and emissions reduction goals,” he said of the initiative.

There will also be a focus on Myanmar and discussions on coordination to “continue to impose costs and increase pressure on the junta,” which seized power from the country’s democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup.

US President Joe Biden (L) meets Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Phnom Penh on November 12, 2022 (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP) (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

While in Phnom Penh, Biden will meet the leaders of Japan and South Korea the following Sunday Multiple weapons tests by North Korea, Sullivan said. The meeting is notable in light of the historical tensions between Japan and South Korea, and the relationship between the two staunch allies of the United States Biden has tried to bridge it.

The Japanese and South Koreans find themselves united by concern about Kim Jong Un’s missile tests, as well as the prospect of a seventh nuclear weapons test. North Korea has ramped up its tests this year, after it conducted 32-day missile tests in 2022, according to a CNN count. That’s compared to just eight in 2021 and four in 2020, with another launch on Wednesday.

Sullivan suggested that the trilateral meeting would not lead to specific results, but rather to enhanced security cooperation amid a range of threats.

Sullivan told reporters that the trio of world leaders will be able to discuss broader security issues in the Indo-Pacific and, more specifically, the threats posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

Sullivan said Thursday that the administration is concerned about the North Koreans conducting a seventh nuclear test but cannot say whether it will come during the weekend of meetings.

“Our concern remains real. Whether or not that happens next week, we are concerned about possible further long-range missile tests as well as the possibility of a nuclear test,” Sullivan said earlier this week.

But Monday’s meeting with Xi in Bali, Indonesia, will undoubtedly be hanging on to the summits in Cambodia, and will be part of those three-way talks.

“The one thing President Biden definitely wants to do with our closest allies is check out what he intends to do, and also ask the (South Korean) and Japanese leaders, ‘What do you want me to raise?’ Sullivan said, What do you want me to go for? ‘, adding that it ‘will be a theme but will not be the main event of the trio.

Biden and Xi have spoken on the phone five times since the president entered the White House. They traveled a lot together, both in China and the United States, when both were vice presidents of their country.

Both enter Monday’s meeting against the backdrop of important political events. Biden did better than expected in the US midterm elections, and the Chinese Communist Party rose to an unprecedented third term.

US officials declined to speculate on how the two leaders’ political situations might affect the dynamics of their meeting.

Sullivan told reporters that the serious bilateral meeting between Biden and Xi would focus on “sharpening” each leader’s understanding of each other’s priorities.

This includes the Taiwan issue claimed by Beijing. Biden has vowed in the past to use US military force to defend the island from invasion. This issue is among the most contentious between Biden and Xi.

Sullivan said Biden would also raise the issue of North Korea, focusing on the critical role China could play in managing what constitutes an acute threat to the region.

Biden has repeatedly raised the issue in his calls with Xi up to this point, but Sullivan has reiterated the US view that China plays a critical role – a role that must be seen within its own self-interest.

“If North Korea continues down this path, it will simply mean a further strengthened US military and security presence in the region,” Sullivan said. So (China) has an interest in playing a constructive role in reining in North Korea’s worst tendencies. Whether or not they choose to do so is, of course, up to them.”

Sullivan said Biden would detail his position on the issue, “which is that North Korea is a threat not only to the United States, not only (South Korea) and Japan, but to peace and stability throughout the region.”

Sullivan suggested that the meeting would focus on a better understanding of positions on a series of critical issues, but was not likely to lead to any major breakthroughs or dramatic shifts in the relationship.

Instead, Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden traveled to Cambodia, “Instead, it’s about leaders coming to a better understanding and then tasking their teams” with continuing to work through these issues.

Sullivan said the meeting, scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the G20 summit, was the result of “several weeks of intense discussions” between the two sides, and Biden sees it as the beginning of a series of engagements between the two sides. leaders and their teams.

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