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

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

President Joe Biden on Saturday highlighted the US partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as “the heart of my administration’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific region” as he heads up a high-profile meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to counter China’s growing influence. is trying Xi Jinping was appointed on Monday.

The weekend of meetings in Cambodia comes ahead of next week’s highly anticipated Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, where Biden will meet Xi in person for the first time since taking office. The ASEAN meeting – along with Sunday’s East Asia Summit, also in Phnom Penh – will be an opportunity for the president to speak with US allies ahead of his meeting with Xi.

Speaking at the summit, Biden announced “another important step” in building on the group’s progress as he announced the launch of the US-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which he said would “address the biggest issues of our time, from climate” to health security, protection against significant threats to established order and threats to the rule of law, and building a Pacific that is free and open, stable and prosperous, stable and secure. He cited existing US financial commitments to ASEAN as he outlined a budget request for assistance to Southeast Asia for $850 million.

“This is my third visit, my third meeting – the second in person, and it is a testament to the importance of the United States in our relationship with ASEAN and our commitment to the core of ASEAN. ASEAN is at the center of my administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy. And we are strengthening our commitment to work we will continue with a strong and united ASEAN,” Biden said in a brief speech at the start of the summit.

The president’s first order of business in Cambodia was a bilateral meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen as he looks to build on a meeting between Biden and ASEAN leaders in Washington earlier this year.

Biden, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, told reporters aboard Air Force One that he “intended to elevate our cooperation in the Indo-Pacific from the beginning of his presidency” and that his presence at the ASEAN and East Asia summits this weekend will highlight his work. did so far, including the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework announced earlier this year and security partnership efforts.

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“He’s coming into this set of summits with a record of accomplishments and goals behind him, and he wants to use the next 36 hours to build that foundation to advance American cooperation, as well as a number of specific, actionable initiatives,” Sullivan said.

Among these practical initiatives, Sullivan noted, are new initiatives on maritime cooperation, digital connectivity and economic investment. Biden is set to launch a new maritime domain effort that focuses on using radio frequencies from commercial satellites to track dark cargo, illegal and unregulated fishing, and improve the capacity of countries in the region to respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises. ,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan added that Biden will emphasize a “forward-looking stance” on regional defense to show that the US is at the forefront of security cooperation.

During his speech, Biden also mentioned the new US-ASEAN electric vehicle infrastructure initiative.

“We will work together to develop an integrated ecosystem of electric vehicles in Southeast Asia that will enable the region to achieve clean energy, economic growth and ambitious emissions reduction goals,” he said of the initiative.

There will also be a focus on Myanmar and discussions on coordination “to continue spending 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 (left) 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.  (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/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 multiple weapons tests, Sullivan said. The meeting is notable given the historic tensions between Japan and South Korea, and the strained relations between the two staunch US allies that Biden has sought to smooth.

Japan and South Korea are concerned about Kim Jong-un’s missile tests, as well as the possibility of a seventh nuclear weapon test. According to a report by CNN, North Korea has increased its tests this year, conducting missile tests for 32 days in 2022. That’s compared to just eight in 2021 and four in 2020, the latest opening on Wednesday.

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

The trio of world leaders, Sullivan told reporters, “could discuss broader security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly the threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.”

Sullivan said Thursday that the administration is concerned about North Korea’s seventh nuclear test, but could not say whether it would come at the end of the week of talks.

“Our concern still remains real. Whether that happens next week or not, I can’t say,” Sullivan said earlier this week. “We are also concerned about possible further tests of long-range missiles in addition to the possibility of nuclear tests. And so we’ll be watching both of them closely.”

But Monday’s meeting with Xi in Bali, Indonesia, will undoubtedly be on top of the Cambodia summit and will be part of the trilateral talks.

“One thing that President Biden will definitely want to do with our closest allies is anticipate what he’s going to do and also ask the leaders of (South Korea) and Japan, ‘What would you like me to put forward?’ What do you want me to come in with?'” Sullivan said, adding that it “will be a theme, but it won’t be the main event of the three-way.”

Biden and Xi have spoken by phone five times since the president entered the White House. They traveled extensively in both China and the United States when they both served as vice presidents of their respective countries.

Both enter Monday’s meeting amid significant political developments. Biden did better than expected in the US midterm elections and Xi was elevated by the Chinese Communist Party to an unprecedented third term in China.

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

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Sullivan told reporters that the bilateral meeting between Biden and Xi was aimed at “sharpening” each leader’s understanding of the other’s priorities.

This includes the issue of Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing. Biden has previously promised to use US military power to defend the island from attack. This issue is one of the most controversial between Biden and Xi.

Sullivan said Biden will also discuss North Korea, emphasizing the important role China can play in managing the growing threat to the region.

Biden has repeatedly raised the issue in his calls with Xi, but Sullivan emphasized the US view that China plays an important role and that it should be considered within its own interests.

“If North Korea moves forward in this way, it will only mean a further increase in American military and security presence in the region,” Sullivan said. “And so (China) has an interest in playing a constructive role in curbing North Korea’s worst tendencies. Whether they choose to do that or not is of course up to them.”

Sullivan said Biden is detailing 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 a number of important issues, but was unlikely to result in any major breakthroughs or drastic changes in relations.

Instead, Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One during Biden’s trip to Cambodia that “it’s about the leaders coming to a better understanding and then assigning their teams” to continue working on these issues.

Sullivan said the meeting, to be held on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, was the result of a “tense couple of weeks” between the two sides and was seen by Biden as the start of a series of meetings between the two sides. leaders and their teams.


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