Biden pledges $150 million to ASEAN Follow China International Trade News

The U.S. president held a summit with Southeast Asian leaders to pledge funding for infrastructure, security and health.

U.S. President Joe Biden opened a summit of Southeast Asian leaders with a pledge to spend $150 million on infrastructure, security and coronavirus efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

Biden started a game on Thursday Two-day summit with ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Dinner with the White House in Washington on Friday followed by talks at the State Department.

While a Russian invasion of Ukraine is on the agenda, the Biden administration wants to show that Washington remains focused on the Asia-Pacific as Beijing grows stronger in the region.

China in November pledged $1.5 billion in development aid to ASEAN countries (Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines) over three years to fight the coronavirus and support economic recovery.

“We’re not asking countries to choose between the U.S. and China,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters.

“However, we want to make it clear that the United States seeks stronger relationships.”

Washington’s financial commitments include investing $40 million to reduce the carbon footprint of the region’s electricity supply, $60 million in maritime safety and $15 million in health funding to combat COVID-19 and future pandemics, an official said. Other funds will be used to help countries develop their digital economy and AI legal frameworks.

The U.S. Coast Guard will also deploy a vessel to the region to help local fleets deal with what Washington and countries in the region say are illegal Chinese fishing.

Biden is working on more initiatives, including “Building Back for a Better World” infrastructure investment and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), although neither has yet been finalized.

friction with China

The summit marks the first time ASEAN leaders have gathered at the White House en masse and their first meeting since 2016 chaired by a US president.

Eight ASEAN leaders are expected to attend 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. The country is represented at the White House by its foreign affairs secretary.

ASEAN leaders also visited Capitol Hill on Thursday for lunch with congressional leaders.

Southeast Asian countries share many concerns about China with Washington.

China’s sovereignty over more than 90 percent of the South China Sea, one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, has sparked tensions with many of its regional neighbors, notably Vietnam and the Philippines.

However, countries in the region have also been frustrated with Washington’s level of economic involvement since former President Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2017.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Thursday that the United States should “adopt a more aggressive trade and investment agenda with ASEAN that will benefit the United States economically and strategically”.

The IPEF is due to launch next week when Biden visits Japan and South Korea, although the initiative does not currently offer the expanded market access the Asian nation is seeking due to the U.S. president’s concerns about U.S. jobs.

Analysts said that while ASEAN countries share the U.S.’s concerns about China, they remain cautious about siding more firmly with Washington, given their major economic ties to Beijing and limited U.S. economic incentives.

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