Biden to visit Cambodia for dual summits

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U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Phnom Penh next month for two regional summits, according to the White House, which said the trip will underscore America’s “enduring commitment to Southeast Asia” amid a growing rivalry for influence between Beijing and Washington.

Biden will join leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, for one of the last summits of Cambodia’s chairmanship of the group, as well as the East Asia Summit, which has historically also included leaders from Russia, China, Japan and India and Australia.

The Nov. 12-13 trip comes amid a flurry of summits, with Biden also scheduled to attend the G-20 Leaders Summit in Bali, Indonesia, from Nov. 13-16 as speculation percolates about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans.

But it will also be the first trip to Cambodia by a U.S. president since Barack Obama’s visit the last time the country served as chair of the 10-country bloc in November 2012. That proved a frosty affair, with Obama pressing Prime Minister Hun Sen on his regime’s human rights abuses during “tense” meetings but otherwise avoiding overt criticism.

“The Cambodians just want to get through this time without a blow-up,” said Gregory B. Poling, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Their last time hosting ASEAN in 2012 was a nightmare – they served as the proxies of China and wrecked consensus, and they’ve been hearing about that for a decade.”

For the first time in ASEAN’s then 45-year history, the 2012 summit in Phnom Penh closed without a joint statement, with Cambodia ending the bloc’s consensus position that disputes over the South China Sea be negotiated between Beijing and the bloc as a whole. The shift came two years after an upgrade of ties between China and Cambodia.

By comparison, “so far this year, they’ve done well,” Poling said.

“There’ve been complaints but they’ve managed a difficult time coming out of Covid, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the crisis in Myanmar,” he said. “If they can just get through this final summit, they’re going to breathe a sigh of relief: It’ll be the Indonesians’ turn to deal with it.”

It is not clear if Hun Sen will meet privately with Biden during the two summits. During a speech on Sunday, the prime minister only confirmed Biden’s plans to attend the summits and gave no further details.



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