Biden arrives in Cambodia looking to counter China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

President Joe Biden on Saturday called the US partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries “the heart of my administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy” as he held a high-level meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. want to counter China’s growing influence. Jin Ping is scheduled for Monday.

The weekend of meetings in Cambodia precedes next week’s highly anticipated Group of 20 summit in Indonesia where Biden will meet in person with the XI for the first time since taking office. The ASEAN meetings – along with Sunday’s East Asia Summit, also being held in Phnom Penh – will be an opportunity for the president to talk to US allies before sitting down with Xi.

In remarks at the summit, Biden announced “another important step” toward advancing the group’s progress as he detailed the launch of the US-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which he said, “our will tackle the biggest issues of the time, from climate to health protection, to defending against critical threats to governance and the rule of law, and to building an Indo-Pacific which is free and open, stable and prosperous, flexible and secure.” He emphasized existing U.S. financial commitments to ASEAN as he noted a budget request for $850 million in aid to Southeast Asia.

“This is my third visit, my third summit — the second in person — and it’s a testament to the importance the United States places on our relationship with ASEAN and our commitment to the centrality of ASEAN. ASEAN is the Indo-Pacific of my administration. is central to the strategy. And we continue to strengthen our commitment to work in lockstep with an empowered, united 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 prepare for a summit between Biden and ASEAN leaders in Washington earlier this year.

Biden, national security adviser Jack Sullivan, told reporters aboard Air Force One, “the intention was to increase our engagement in the Indo-Pacific” from the beginning of his presidency, and at the ASEAN and East Asia summits later this week. Their participation will highlight their work. So far, including the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and Security Partnership efforts announced earlier this year.

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“He’s coming into this set of summits with this record of achievement and purpose behind him, and he wants to be able to use the next 36 hours to build that foundation to advance American engagement, and as well as to provide a series of concrete, practical steps,” said Sullivan.

Among those practical steps, Sullivan noted, are new ones on maritime cooperation, digital connectivity and economic investment. Biden is set to launch a new maritime domain effort “focused on using radio frequencies from commercial satellites to track dark shipping, illegal and unregulated fishing, and disaster response for countries in the region.” It can also improve the capacity of the humanitarian crisis,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan added that Biden will also highlight “forward deployment” toward regional defense, to show that the U.S. is on the front foot in terms of security cooperation.

During his remarks, Biden also hinted at a new US-ASEAN electric vehicle infrastructure initiative.

“We are working together to develop an integrated electric vehicle ecosystem in Southeast Asia, which will support the region’s clean energy, economic growth, and ambitious emissions reduction goals,” he said of the initiative. will enable it to be achieved.”

There will also be a focus on Myanmar and talks on coordination “to impose costs and increase pressure on the junta”, which seized power from the country’s democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup.

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Phnom Penh on November 12, 2022.  (AFP via Getty Images)

While in Phnom Penh, Biden will meet with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Sunday following North Korea’s series of weapons tests, Sullivan said. The meeting is notable given the historic tensions between Japan and South Korea, and the relationship between the two staunch US allies has been one that Biden has sought to smooth.

The Japanese and South Koreans find themselves united in concern over Kim Jong-un’s missile tests, as well as the test of a seventh nuclear weapon. According to a CNN count, North Korea has ramped up its tests this year, conducting missile tests on 32 days in 2022. That compares to just eight in 2021 and four in 2020, with the latest launching on Wednesday.

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Sullivan suggested that the tripartite meeting would not lead to specific deliverables, but would increase security cooperation across a range of threats.

Sullivan told reporters that the trio of world leaders “will be able to discuss broader security issues in the Indo-Pacific, and in particular the threats posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.”

Sullivan said Thursday that the administration is concerned about North Korea’s seventh nuclear test but could not say whether it would come during the weekend of meetings.

“Our concern is still real. Whether it happens in the next week or not, I can’t say,” Sullivan said earlier this week. “We are concerned about the possibility of a nuclear test as well as more long-range missile tests. And so, we will be watching both of them carefully.

But Monday’s meeting with Xi in Bali, Indonesia, will undoubtedly cover the summits in Cambodia and form part of those trilateral talks.

“One thing that President Biden certainly wants to do with our closest allies is what they plan to do, and also ask the leaders of (South Korea) and Japan, ‘What do you want to talk to me about? What do you want me to go with?” Sullivan said, adding that it would be “the theme but not the main event of the trilogy.”

Biden and Xi have spoken by phone five times since the president entered the White House. They traveled extensively together, both in China and the United States, while both were serving as vice presidents of their respective countries.

Both enter Monday’s meeting on the back of key political events. Biden did better than expected in the US midterm elections and the Chinese Communist Party promoted Xi to an unprecedented third term.

US officials declined to speculate on how the two leaders’ political situation might affect the dynamics of their meeting.

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Sullivan told reporters that the high-level bilateral meeting between Biden and Xi would focus on “accelerating” each leader’s understanding of the other’s priorities.

This includes the issue of Taiwan, which Beijing claims. Biden has previously pledged to use US military force to defend the island from attack. This issue is the most contentious between Biden and XI.

Sullivan said Biden will also raise the issue of North Korea, stressing that China can play an important role in managing a serious threat to the region.

Biden has raised the issue repeatedly in his calls with XI so far, but Sullivan emphasized the American view that China plays an important role — and one that should be viewed in its own interest.

“If North Korea continues on this path, it will mean an increased US military and security presence in the region,” Sullivan said. “And so (China) is interested in playing a constructive role in preventing the worst trends of North Korea. Whether they choose to do so or not is of course up to them.

Sullivan said Biden will detail his position on the issue, “which is that North Korea is a threat not only to the United States, not only to (South Korea) and Japan, but to peace and stability in the entire region.” ”

Sullivan suggested that the meeting would focus on a better understanding of positions on key issues, but that it was unlikely to result in any major breakthroughs or dramatic changes in the relationship.

Instead, “it’s about leaders coming to a better understanding and then getting their teams to continue working on these issues,” Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden traveled to Cambodia. had been.

Sullivan said the meeting, scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, was the culmination of “several weeks of intense” discussions between the two sides, and Biden described it as the start of a series of engagements between the two sides. But saw Leaders and their teams.


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