By Reuters and published by CNA
Phnom Penh – Southeast Asian heads of government held talks today (Nov. 12) with visiting global leaders including US President Joe Biden, who hailed the launch of a new US-Asean pact as a critical step towards tackling “the biggest issues of our time”.
In his first visit to Southeast Asia as president, Biden said the region was at the heart of his administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy and Washington was committing resources, not just rhetoric, under a new Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
“Together we will tackle the biggest issues of our time, from climate, to health security, to defend against the significant threat to the rule-based order,” he said, opening a meeting in Cambodia with leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
“We will build an Indo Pacific that’s free and open, stable and prosperous, and resilient and secure,” he added.
Asean is engaging a host of leaders, including Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
The event is the first in a series of summits in Southeast Asia over the next seven days that are expected to discuss tricky global issues, from the war in Ukraine, climate, and regional tensions over the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea and North Korean missile launches.
Biden’s presence comes as the United States seeks to reassert itself after a period of regional uncertainty about its commitment under US predecessor Donald Trump, and concerted efforts by rival China to boost its influence and fill the void.
China and Asean announced an upgrade in their ties to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership level last year.
Upgrade in ties with India
India along with the United States today (Nov. 12) upgraded their diplomatic relationships with Asean to Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships, CNA said.
This brings to four the number of countries that Asean has Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships with. It is the highest-tier partnership the bloc has with external partners.
The South Asian nation was represented by Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankar, who was at the summit in Phnom Penh in place of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India’s elevated partnership was signed during an Asean-India Summit this morning, which marked the 30th anniversary of its dialogue relations with Asean.
Dhankar said that India and Asean share the “common vision” of ensuring peace, prosperity and stability in the region.
“As we look ahead, we see an uncertain geopolitical landscape which cannot be whisked away. To navigate it, we must expand our cooperation and deepen our strategic trust. Our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership should provide a path for this,” he is quoted as saying by the Times of India.
Earlier today, South Korean leader Yoon proposed a mechanism for dialogue with China and Japan to address future crises including from the impacts of war on areas like security of food and energy as well as climate change.
Yoon and Japan’s Kishida also criticised North Korea’s attempt to boost its nuclear and missile capabilities, calling it a serious and unacceptable threat. In a separate exchange with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Kishida said Japan and China should strive toward building a “constructive and stable” relationship.
Asean leaders on Friday issued a “warning” to Myanmar’s military leaders, who were barred from the summit, to make measurable progress on a peace plan.
Global leaders will attend an East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh on Sunday, ahead of a business gathering and a G20 leaders summit in Bali next week, before moving to Bangkok for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum.
At the gatherings, Biden will focus on the Indo-Pacific region and talk about US commitment to a rules-based order in the South China Sea, a senior administration official said earlier this week.
Some analysts played down expectations of any dramatic developments from Biden’s presence, but noted it demonstrated the United States was getting back to “normal diplomacy”, including with the upgrade in strategic ties with Asean.
“That doesn’t mean anything concrete, but symbolically it puts the US at the same level as China,” said Greg Poling, head of the Southeast Asia programme at Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Biden today said the meetings would discuss Russia’s “brutal” war against Ukraine and US efforts to address the war’s global impact.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is attending those events on behalf of President Vladimir Putin, while hosts Indonesia today confirmed Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will address the G20 meeting virtually.
Ukraine is seeking to strengthen its engagement with Asean and its foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, is asking its leaders to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, warning that staying neutral is not in their interests.
He has also urged them to prevent Russia from holding up the movement of Ukrainian agricultural products under a Black Sea grain deal, which could expire on Nov. 19, and “stop Russia from playing hunger games with the world”.
Top: US President Joe Biden at the Asean-US Summit today, Nov. 12, 2022. Photo: MCI and published by CNA
First insert: Indian Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankar at the Asean-India Summit today, Nov. 12, 2022. Photo: MCI and published by CNA
Second Insert: US President Joe Biden at the Asean-US Summit today, Nov. 12, 2022 with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha standing in the centre. Photo: MCI and published by CNA
Front Page: US President Joe Biden (left) speaks during the Asean-US Summit, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on, as part of the Asean summits in Phnom Penh today, Nov. 12, 2022. Photo: AFP/Saul Loeb and published by CNA
Below from left to right, Philippine’s President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, India’s Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Laos’ Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh, and Malaysian Speaker of the House of Representatives Azhar Azizan Harun wave for a group photo at the Asean – India Summit, in Phnom Penh today, Nov. 12, 2022. Photo: AP Photo/Anupam Nath and published by CNA