United States President Joe Biden landed on Saturday in Cambodia, where he is set to meet with leaders of the 10-nation Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) to emphasise his vision for a free and open Asia-Pacific to counter China’s growing military and technological assertiveness.
The trip to South-east Asia is Biden’s first since his presidency, and comes at a time when Washington is seeking to advance its role as a security partner among Asian nations that count on China as its biggest trading partner.
The White House has said it is hoping Biden’s trip to the region will help bolster that status.
Biden is also the first US president to attend the Asean summit since 2017.
Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese are among the leaders set to hold separate talks with Asean on Saturday.
Biden will focus on the Indo-Pacific region and talk about US commitment to a rules-based international order in the South China Sea in his discussions, senior administration officials said earlier this week.
Some analysts played down expectations of any dramatic developments from Biden’s presence at the Asean meetings, but noted it provided more evidence of how the US was getting back to “normal diplomacy”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will also attend some meetings, while Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is also in Cambodia after signing a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with Asean, as Kyiv seeks to strengthen ties with the bloc.
Officials expect a number of summits in the region in the next seven days to be difficult, with discussions also expected to include the war in Ukraine, climate and regional tensions over the South China Sea.
Leaders of the Group of 20 are meeting in Bali next week, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will take place in Bangkok after that.
Asean leaders on Friday issued a “warning” to Myanmar to make measurable progress on a peace plan or risk being barred from the bloc’s meetings, as social and political chaos escalates in the country.