Phnom Penh, Cambodia
President Joe Biden touted America’s relationship with Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) on Saturday as “the heart of my administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy” as he sought to curbing the growth of China’s influence before a major meeting with Chinese President Xi. Jinping scheduled for Monday.
The weeks of meetings in Cambodia are ahead of next week’s highly anticipated Group of 20 summit in Indonesia where Biden will meet Xi for the first time since taking office. The ASEAN meetings – as well as Sunday’s East Asia Summit, also in Phnom Penh – will give the president a chance to talk to US allies before sitting down with Xi.
In his remarks at the conference, Biden called it “another important step” to build the group’s progress as he announced the launch of the US-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, he said. ,” will address the major issues of our time, from climate. to health security, defense against major threats to governance and law enforcement, and create an Indo- Kiwa is accessible, open, sustainable, effective, sustainable and sustainable.” He cited US financial aid to ASEAN when he announced a $850 million aid request for Southeast Asia.
“This is my third visit, my third meeting – the second – a sign of the importance of the United States in our relationship with ASEAN and our commitment to the center of ASEAN. ASEAN is the heart of the Indo-Pacific strategy of my administration. And we continue to work hard to work in a closed and strong ASEAN,” Biden said in brief opening remarks at the start of the conference.
The president’s first order of business in Cambodia will be a bilateral meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen as he looks to build a summit between Biden and ASEAN leaders in Washington earlier this year.
Biden, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One, “he wants to increase our efforts in the Indo-Pacific” from the beginning of his presidency, and his attendance at ASEAN and East Asia summits this week will highlight his efforts. so far, including the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework announced earlier this year and security partnerships.
“He’s coming into this meeting with a record of achievement and a mission behind him, and he wants to use the next 36 hours to build on that foundation to taking America’s work forward and producing a series of concrete, practical projects,” Sullivan said.
Among those initiatives, Sullivan said, are innovations in maritime cooperation, digital connectivity and economic investment. Biden is set to launch a new maritime task force “focused on using radio signals from commercial satellites to track dark vessels, illegal and illegal fishing, and improving the ability of countries in the region to respond to disasters and humanitarian crises,” said Sullivan.
Biden will also emphasize a “progressive stance” on regional defense, Sullivan said, to show that the US is at the forefront of the security process.
In his remarks, Biden also pointed to a US-ASEAN electric vehicle project.
“We will work together to develop an electric vehicle ecosystem in Southeast Asia, enabling the region to pursue clean energy, economic development, and emissions reduction goals,” he said. the purpose.
There will also be a focus on Myanmar and discussions on coordination “to continue to attack prices and increase pressure on the junta,” which seized power from the country’s democratically elected government in the February 2021.
While in Phnom Penh, Biden will meet with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Tuesday following North Korea’s multiple weapons tests, Sullivan said. The event is particularly notable because of past tensions between Japan and South Korea, and the relationship between America’s two closest allies is one that Biden has tried to bridge.
The Japanese and South Koreans are united in their concern over Kim Jong Un’s missile tests, including the prospect of a seventh nuclear weapon test. North Korea has increased its tests this year, and has conducted missile tests on 32 days in 2022, according to a CNN account. That compares to just eight in 2021 and four in 2020, with the latest launch coming on Wednesday.
Sullivan said that the third meeting will not lead to specific results, but rather, to strengthen the security role in various threats.
The three world leaders, Sullivan told reporters, “can discuss the general security issues in the Indo-Pacific, and also, the threats that have arisen from North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.”
Sullivan said Thursday that the administration is concerned about North Korea conducting a seventh nuclear test but could not say whether it would come during the weekend of events.
“We’re still concerned. Whether it happens next week or not, I can’t say,” Sullivan said earlier this week. “We’re also concerned about other long-term nuclear tests in addition to nuclear testing. So, we will be looking at both of these very carefully.”
But Monday’s meeting with Xi in Bali, Indonesia, will no doubt be overshadowed by events in Cambodia and will be part of those third-party talks.
“One thing that President Biden really wants to do with our neighbors is preview what he’s going to do, and also ask the leaders of (South Korea) and Japan, ‘he what do you want me to raise? What do you want me to be involved in?'” Sullivan said, adding that “it will be a topic but not a priority for the triad.”
Biden and Xi have spoken by phone five times since the president entered the White House. They traveled together, both in China and the United States, when they were vice presidents of their respective countries.
Both will enter Monday’s meeting after major political events. Biden did better than expected in the US midterm elections and Xi was praised for a third term by the Chinese Communist Party.
U.S. officials declined to comment on how the two leaders’ political backgrounds will affect the dynamics of their meeting.
The two-way meeting between Biden and Xi will focus on “sharpening” each leader’s understanding of the other’s priorities, Sullivan told reporters.
That includes the Taiwan issue, Beijing says. Biden has promised in the past to use the US military to protect the country from attack. The issue is one of the main points of contention between Biden and Xi.
Biden will also raise the issue of North Korea, focusing on how much China can do as a threat to the region, Sullivan said.
Biden has raised many issues in his calls to Xi so far, but Sullivan said the US view is that China is a big player — and that it should be viewed in its own right. .
“If North Korea continues on this path, it means more American forces and security in the region,” Sullivan said. “That’s why (China) wants to play a good role in preventing North Korea’s bad behavior. It’s up to them to choose to do that or not.”
Sullivan said that Biden will share his position on the issue, “the fact that North Korea represents a threat not only to the United States, not only to (South Korea) and Japan, but to peace and stability throughout the entire region.”
Sullivan said the meeting will focus on a better understanding of positions on a series of critical issues, but it is unlikely to lead to a major breakthrough or significant change in relations.
Instead, “it’s about leaders getting a better understanding and working on their teams” to continue working on these issues, Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden headed to Cambodia. .
The meeting, scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, was the result of “several weeks of intense” discussions between the two sides, Sullivan said, and Biden sees it as the start of a series of midterms. leaders and their teams.