Biden Appoints Envoy to Southeast Asia, Highlights US Attention

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden announced Friday that he will nominate one of his top national security officials as ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, aiming to underline his administration’s commitment to the Pacific.

Biden announced his decision to nominate Yohannes Abraham, White House Chief of Staff of the National Security Council, as U.S. representative to the bloc of ten countries as he finalized talks with ASEAN leaders, who met in Washington for a two-day meeting. – day “special summit”.

Biden’s efforts to place greater emphasis on the Pacific have been overtaken in recent months by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

By appointing an ambassador to ASEAN – the US is currently represented by a Chargé d’affaires – the president wanted to send the message that he is serious about rethinking US foreign policy to focus more on Asia and the US’s role as a counterbalance to China’s meteoric rise in the region.

Biden described Abraham as one of his closest advisers

“I’m a little worried about sending him because he knows how I think. He knows so much about me,” Biden joked with ASEAN leaders about Abraham. “But all jokes aside, I think you’ll find him completely knowledgeable, and he speaks for me and he speaks for my records.”

Abraham’s nomination, which requires Senate confirmation, came after the White House announced Thursday that the United States would commit more than $150 million to new projects to bolster Southeast Asia’s climate, maritime and public health infrastructure.

Earlier on Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris met with ASEAN leaders and underlined that “the United States and ASEAN have shared a vision for this region, and together will guard against threats to international rules and standards.” That comment, during a session focused in part on the freedom of the seas, seemed to refer to China’s increasingly aggressive military actions in the South China Sea and beyond.

In recent years, China has ramped up its military presence in the South China Sea, as well as the East China Sea, where a dispute over uninhabited islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China has been a long-running issue.

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“We stand with our allies and partners in defending the maritime rule-based order, including freedom of navigation and international law,” Harris said.

During his presidency, Biden has paid more attention to improving relations with countries in the Pacific, as he and top national security officials have made it clear that they view an emerging China as the United States’ most threatening economic and national security enemy.

Biden said in his comments to State Department leaders that strengthening the US relationship with ASEAN is “at the core” of his foreign policy strategy.

“An Indo-Pacific that is free and open, stable and prosperous, and resilient and secure is what we are all looking for,” Biden said.

White House officials said Biden spoke privately with ASEAN leaders about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A joint statement after the summit of US and ASEAN participants made no direct mention of Russia, adding that “with regard to Ukraine” the participants “reaffirm our respect for sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity.”

Some ASEAN members — Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos — have depended on Russia for military hardware for years. With the exception of Singapore — the only member of the 10-member group to impose direct sanctions on Moscow — the alliance has avoided criticizing President Vladimir Putin or Russia’s prosecution of the war.

Indonesia has been cautious in its public comments about the invasion, and the Philippines has made it clear that it will not impose sanctions on Russia. Thailand joined a United Nations vote against invading Ukraine, but maintains a neutral position in the war.

“We hope that the war in Ukraine will end as soon as possible and that we give the peaceful resolution of a conflict a chance to succeed,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters on Friday as he began a meeting with the US government. Minister of Foreign Affairs. State of Antony Blinken. “Because we know that if the war continues, we will all suffer.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, currently chairman of the Group of 20 – the world’s largest economies – has resisted Biden’s calls to exclude Russia from this fall’s Bali summit. White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Friday that Biden maintains his position that it “shouldn’t be business as usual at the G-20” and Putin should be dismissed.

Another potential sticking point in relations with the US is a Department of Commerce investigation that could lead to high tariffs on solar panels and parts imported from four Southeast Asian countries: Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. A California-based solar company says Chinese manufacturers are unfairly circumventing US duties by carrying out minor assembly in the four smaller countries.

Solar industry groups and other clean energy advocates have condemned the probe, which they say could jeopardize the industry’s future and Biden’s clean energy agenda. About 80 percent of the panels used by U.S. companies can be traced back to Southeast Asia, according to industry groups. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo says the investigation follows a legally defined process.

The ASEAN countries whose leaders attended the summit are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Top leaders of ASEAN member Myanmar were excluded, while outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Secretary of State Teodoro Locsin Jr. sent to represent his government.

The summit came just before Biden’s trip to South Korea and Japan next week — his first visit to Asia as president. He will hold talks with the leaders of those two countries and also meet during the trip with leaders of the Indo-Pacific strategic alliance known as the Quad, comprising Australia, India and Japan in addition to the US.

Harris told ASEAN leaders that the Biden administration recognizes “the vital strategic importance” of the bloc. She said: “The United States will be present and involved in Southeast Asia for generations to come.”

Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed coverage.

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