US President Joe Biden and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang attended an annual summit of 18 countries in Asia-Pacific on Wednesday, as some regional leaders expressed concern about intensifying competition between the major powers on trade. , Taiwan, democracy and Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions in disputed areas.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will also speak at the East Asia Summit, a broad forum on political, security and economic issues organized by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The World Health Organization is expected to inform leaders about the pandemic, which has reversed the economies of 18 countries, which represent more than half of the world’s population and account for more than 60 percent of global GDP.
A White House statement Wednesday said Biden will reaffirm US support for ASEAN-led regional architecture and discuss his vision to work with allies and partners to address issues facing the Indo-Pacific region. . It marked the first time since 2017 that a US president has attended the summit, part of three-day high-level meetings hosted by Brunei, ASEAN president this year.
In a separate meeting with ASEAN leaders Tuesday, Biden announced a $100 million initiative to strengthen U.S. engagement with the region in the face of China’s growth as a national security and economic adversary. Biden called America’s relationship with the bloc “essential.” The funding will cover spending on health care, a new climate initiative, education and programs to bolster the economic recovery.
“I want you all to hear directly from me how much importance the United States attaches to its relationship with ASEAN,” Biden said. “You can expect me to appear and contact you.”
Relations between Washington and Beijing have sunk to new lows since falling under former President Donald Trump’s administration, which took a confrontational approach to trade, visas, diplomatic representation and educational exchanges.
A long-drawn-out dispute over Taiwan recently flared up after Biden said the US is determined to help the self-ruled island, which China claims as part of its territory, in the event of an attack.
The US nuclear submarine deal with Australia and the UK has also angered China, which claims most of the disputed South China Sea, and warned that the pact would threaten regional stability.
Some ASEAN countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, also fear that the pact, called AUKUS, could escalate tensions in hotspots such as the South China Sea and spark an arms race.
“Indonesia does not want this region to become an arms race and a power projection that could threaten stability,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo told his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison, Indonesia’s foreign minister said.
Australia announced a $93 million package to support security, climate and health efforts in Southeast Asia, while Morrison defended the new pact with the US and the UK and said it would support Australia’s commitment to ASEAN. whether ASEAN’s outlook for the Indo-Pacific doesn’t change – “it does strengthen it.”
He said Australia had no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons and remained strongly committed to nuclear non-proliferation.
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said his country shared serious concerns with ASEAN about the challenges to the free and open maritime order in the East and South China seas, according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry.
He didn’t mention China by name, but Tokyo has become more vocal in defending freedom of navigation and resolving disputes under international law, at a time when China is expanding its military might beyond its shores and its neighbors are rattling construction. of man-made islands and steering ships near their shores.
Three-day ASEAN rallies have been clouded by a diplomatic standoff after military-ruled Myanmar skipped the summit in protest at ASEAN’s decision to ban senior general Min Aung Hlaing, whose troops took power in February.
ASEAN’s boldest disapproval of Myanmar came after the bloc’s envoy was prevented from meeting deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners as part of a proposed dialogue to alleviate the crisis, involving more than 1,100 mostly anti-military protesters have died.
During ASEAN leaders’ talks with Australia on Wednesday, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed concern over the detention in Myanmar of Australian academic Sean Turnell, who served as an economic adviser to the government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Morrison thanked Lee for the concern, a Southeast Asian diplomat who attended the meeting told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to a lack of authority to discuss the discussions publicly.
Myanmar has refused to send a subordinate representative to the summit, labeling ASEAN’s action as contrary to the bloc’s principles of non-interference in each other’s affairs and decision-making by consensus. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Myanmar’s decision to call off the summit was “deplorable” and hinted he might also consider not inviting the army-led general to a video summit of more than 50 Asian and European countries that Cambodia will host next month. said diplomat.
According to the diplomat, there are concerns that European leaders will skip the summit and only send lower representatives if the general of Myanmar is allowed to join.
Biden on Tuesday condemned Myanmar’s military for using “horrific violence” against protesters and pledged US support for the country’s return to democracy.
In a statement by the chairman released Tuesday after the summit, the bloc’s leaders urged Myanmar to grant its envoy, Brunei’s second foreign minister, Eryan Yusof, full access to all parties and political parties. release prisoners.
While respecting ASEAN’s principle of non-interference, the bloc said it must also strike a balance on the rule of law, good governance, democracy and constitutional governance in Myanmar’s situation.
“We reiterated that Myanmar remains a member of the ASEAN family and recognized that Myanmar needs both time and political space to meet its many and complex challenges,” the group said.