trans pacific landscape | diplomatic | Southeast Asia
The president has attended the past two Asean-US and East Asia summits, but Vice President Kamala Harris will represent next month in Jakarta.
U.S. President Joe Biden poses for a photo with leaders of ASEAN member states at the U.S.-ASEAN Extraordinary Summit on May 12, 2022.
Image Credit: Official White House Photos
The White House announced yesterday that U.S. President Joe Biden will attend the G20 summit in India next month at the cost of missing the U.S.-ASEAN and East Asia summits in Jakarta.
The White House said in a statement that Biden will travel to New Delhi to attend the G20 leaders’ summit from September 7 to 10. There, he will discuss with other G20 leaders “a range of joint efforts to address global issues, including clean energy transitions, tackling climate change, and mitigating the economic and social impact of Putin’s war in Ukraine,” among others.
The White House also confirmed an earlier Reuters report that Biden would not attend an ASEAN meeting in Indonesia in the first week of September.
Vice President Kamala Harris will be in attendance. Harris will join ASEAN leaders in reviewing the unprecedented expansion of U.S.-ASEAN relations under the Biden-Harris administration, and the vice president will reaffirm America’s enduring commitment to Southeast Asia and ASEAN centrality, the statement said.
Biden is expected to pay a state visit to Vietnam later in September (the exact date has not been confirmed), and the two countries are expected to establish a strategic partnership in Vietnam.
It is easy to think that Biden’s absence from the important summit has weakened Washington’s commitment to “ASEAN centrality”. But a myriad of priorities are vying for the president’s attention, and tough decisions must sometimes be made.
Although attendance at the ASEAN meeting serves as an important signal of US commitment, it is not too much to say that the US government prioritizes the G20 and Vietnam’s options. Biden’s visit to Hanoi is expected to yield concrete results — aligning the form with the content of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship — while the G20 includes Australia, Canada, France, Germany, a host of U.S. partners and allies, India, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, as well as the EU and Indonesia, the current chair of ASEAN.
While one can always hope for more, the Biden administration has done a good job of increasing engagement with Southeast Asia and its regional organizations since taking office in early 2021. In both 2021 and 2022, Biden will attend the ASEAN-US and East Asia summits. times to visit the area. In May last year, the U.S. government also held the first special U.S.-ASEAN summit in Washington.
The U.S. partnership with the Philippines has progressed significantly over the past two years, and relations with Vietnam are poised for a major upgrade. Much remains to be done, not least to revive the stalled alliance with Thailand. But as I’ve said before, the biggest flaw in US policy toward Southeast Asia remains economics and trade — which won’t be immediately affected by the president’s presence at next month’s meeting.
All in all, it would be nice if Biden could stop by Jakarta, but a missed meeting is unlikely to do significant damage to US relations with this important region.