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The president of the United States, Joe Biden, opened a summit of Asean leaders with a commitment to spend $150 million on infrastructure, security, pandemic preparedness, and other measures to counter the influence of rival China.
The $150 million commitment was seen as somewhat of an insult or token gesture by the Biden administration to the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Basically, giving each ASEAN nation US$15 million.
Biden’s token commitments come after China pledged $1.5 billion in development assistance to ASEAN countries to fight COVID and boost economic recovery for the next three years.
As part of a two-day summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in
The summit marks the first time that ASEAN’s leaders gather as a group at the White House and their first meeting hosted by a U.S. president since 2016.
Biden hosted a dinner at the White House for the leaders on Thursday ahead of talks at the State Department on Friday.
Empty promises from Biden
Even though Ukraine is on the agenda, Biden’s administration hopes the meetings will show the countries that Washington remains focused on the Indo-Pacific and China, which it views as its main competitor.
A senior Biden administration official told reporters, “We have to do more in Southeast Asia.” She added, “We do not wish to force countries to choose between the United States and China. However, we want to make it clear that the United States wants stronger relationships with Southeast Asia.”
A $40 million investment in infrastructure is intended to help decarbonize the region’s power supply, while $60 million is being invested in maritime security, as well as $15 million in health funding for early detection of COVID-19 and other respiratory pandemics, an official said.
The additional funding will be used to develop laws governing the digital economy and artificial intelligence.
The Us$150 million to ASEAN comes after the Biden administration just approved a US$40 billion relief package to Ukraine.
Biden’s commitments to the ASEAN pale in comparison to China’s deep ties and influence in Southeast Asia.
The eight ASEAN leaders are expected to take part in the talks. Myanmar’s leader was excluded over a coup last year, and the Philippines is in transition after an election, though Biden spoke to the country’s president-elect, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
The Philippines was represented by its foreign affairs secretary at the White House.
Biden is working on more initiatives, including the “Build Back a Better World” infrastructure investment and an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). But neither is finalized.
Biden has not lived up to his promises to Southeast Asia
Historically, the US has relied on its power to secure peace and prosperity in Asia.
Yet under Biden, when security issues have arisen – like when Chinese vessels began pressuring the Philippines in the South China Sea in March – Biden’s response has been understated, consisting seemingly only of public statements.
The Philippines and other nations in the region were concerned. In March, Biden’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance omitted to mention the Philippines or Thailand, both of which are US treaty allies.
In Southeast Asia, concrete action is what matters most. Between 2008 and 2016, China and Japan invested over US$30 billion in infrastructure in the region.
Biden, meanwhile, provided a meager $150 million to the 10 members of the Asean.