News World Biden makes $219m commitment to ASEAN

Biden makes $219m commitment to ASEAN

Joe Biden ASEAN
President Joe Biden met ASEAN leaders at the White House at the start of the two-day summit. Photo: Getty
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US President Joe Biden has opened a gathering of South-East Asian leaders with a promise to spend $US150 million ($219 million) on their infrastructure, security, pandemic preparedness and other efforts aimed at countering the influence of rival China.

Mr Biden on Thursday started a two-day summit with the 10-nation Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Washington with a dinner for the leaders at the White House.

Mr Biden smiled broadly as he took a group photo on the South Lawn before the dinner with representatives from Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was on the agenda, Mr Biden’s administration hoped the efforts would show the countries that Washington remains focused on the Indo-Pacific and the long-term challenge of China, which it views as the country’s main competitor.

In November alone, China pledged $US1.5 billion in development assistance to ASEAN countries over three years to fight COVID and fuel economic recovery.

“We need to step up our game in South-East Asia,” a senior US administration official said.

“We are not asking countries to make a choice between the United States and China. We want to make clear, though, that the United States seeks stronger relationships.”

The new financial commitment includes a $US40 million investment in infrastructure intended to help decarbonise the region’s power supply and $US60 million in maritime security, as well as some $US15 million in health funding to aid in early detection of COVID and other respiratory pandemics.

Additional funding will help the countries develop digital economy and artificial intelligence laws.

The US Coast Guard will also deploy a ship to help local fleets counter what Washington and countries in the region have described as China’s illegal fishing.

Still, the commitments pale in comparison with China’s deep ties and influence.

Mr Biden is working on more initiatives, including “Build Back Better World” infrastructure investment and an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

The summit is the first time ASEAN’s leaders have gathered as a group at the White House and their first meeting hosted by a US president since 2016.

Eight ASEAN leaders are involved in the talks. Myanmar’s leader was excluded over a coup last year and the Philippines is in transition after an election, though Mr Biden spoke to the country’s president-elect, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, on Wednesday.

The country was represented by its foreign affairs secretary at the White House.

ASEAN leaders visited Capitol Hill on Thursday for a lunch with congressional leaders.

The countries share many of Washington’s concerns about China. China’s assertion of sovereignty over vast swathes of the South China Sea has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.

Yet the regions has also been frustrated by a US delay in detailing plans for economic engagement since former president Donald Trump quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade pact in 2017.