KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — President Joe Biden and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang will attend an annual summit of 18 Asia-Pacific countries on video Wednesday in a region where world powers have battled a duel over trade, Taiwan, democracy, human rights 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% 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-running dispute over Taiwan recently flared up after Biden said the US is determined to help the self-ruled island, which China claims is part of its territory, defend itself 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.
The issue could be raised at a separate meeting between the Australian leader and ASEAN on Wednesday. Some ASEAN countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, also fear the pact could escalate tensions in hotspots such as the South China Sea and spark an arms race.
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 disapproval of Myanmar was the most brutal 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 mainly anti- military protesters were killed.
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 Suu Kyi’s government. Australian Prime Minister Scott 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 junior representative to the summit on Tuesday and Wednesday, 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 summit of more than 50 Asian and European countries that Cambodia will host next month, the diplomat said. said.
According to the diplomat, there are concerns that European leaders will skip the summit, which will be held via video, and only send lower representatives if the general of Myanmar is allowed to participate in the meeting.
Biden on Tuesday denounced the military in Myanmar 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.
Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia. Associated Press journalists Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, Kiko Rosario and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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