President Joe Biden underscored the US partnership with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries 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 set for Monday.
The weekend of meetings in Cambodia comes ahead of the highly anticipated Group of 20 summit next week in Indonesia where Biden will meet with Xi for the first time in person since he took office. The ASEAN meetings – along with Sunday’s East Asia Summit, which is also being held in Phnom Penh – will be a chance 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 tackle the biggest issues of our time, from climate to health security, defend against the significant threats to rule-based order and to threats to the rule of law, and build an Indo-Pacific that’s free and open, stable and prosperous, resilient and secure.” He touted existing US financial commitments to ASEAN as he noted a budget request for $850 million in assistance for Southeast Asia.
“This is my third trip, my third summit – second in person – and it’s testament to the importance the United States places in our relationship with ASEAN and our commitment to ASEAN’s centrality. ASEAN is the heart of my administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy. And we continue to strengthen our commitment to work in lockstep with an empowered, unified ASEAN,” Biden said in brief opening remarks as the summit began.
The president’s first order of business 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, “was intent on elevating our engagement in the Indo-Pacific” from the start of his presidency, and his attendance 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.