Biden to Host ASEAN Leaders as Part of Indo-Pacific Strategy: Senior White House Official

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The Biden administration is organizing the first-ever Washington-based summit of leaders from across the entirety of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), according to a White House National Security Council official.

“New venues like the Quad are important but, foundationally, what is critical is a strong, vital, innovated, committed approach to ASEAN. And that’s what we’re seeking,” said Kurt Campbell, coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs at the council.

Deepening engagement with ASEAN nations individually and collectively is a core part of U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific, Campbell said, and the U.S.-ASEAN special summit was specifically called for in the White House’s Indo-Pacific Strategy document, released in February.

Campbell said that ASEAN would be central to the United States’ engagement strategy in Asia, offering a much-needed entente to curb the malign influence of authoritarianism emanating throughout the region from the Chinese Communist Party. Such collaboration, he said, would help to grow partnerships based on democratic principles, rules, and norms throughout southeast Asia.

The summit of ASEAN leaders, he said, is hoped to take place in the spring and would allow ASEAN leaders to liaise with “key players” in the U.S. government to “broaden and deepen” the scope of engagement between the nations involved and to commit to new diplomatic, economic, and security frameworks for “mutual prosperity.”

The United States is the largest investment partner to ASEAN, accounting for more than the next three partners combined, according to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy. Perhaps with that in mind, Campbell noted the unique role in leading the region that the body had, and how it differed from more limited partnerships such as the Quad, composed of India, Australia, Japan, and the United States, or AUKUS, composed of Australia, Britain, and the United States which primarily focuses on security.

“The Quad is an unofficial gathering,” Campbell said. “We think it’s of critical importance.”

“But it is also the case that AUKUS has a very specific security component associated with that and it bridges a key partner in Europe.”

“The idea is to have a web of these interactions that are in many respects reinforcing more generally.”

Campbell suggested that ASEAN would therefore be integral to spawning and fostering new agreements like the Quad and AUKUS, across the spectrum of diplomatic, economic, and military affairs.

“What we are primarily interested in are not closed architectures, but those that encourage participation, that are about promoting common purposes and approaches to what we believe will be a complex security and political arena in the Indo-Pacific,” Campbell said.

Those comments were also closely in line with the administration’s strategy document, which called for engagement with ASEAN on everything from transportation to gender equality.

“We endorse ASEAN centrality and support ASEAN in its efforts to deliver sustainable solutions to the region’s most pressing challenges,” the document said. “To that end, we will deepen long-standing cooperation with ASEAN while launching new high-level engagements on health, climate and environment, energy, transportation, and gender equity and equality.”

Campbell said that this cross-spectrum approach would be difficult to implement initially, but was ultimately necessary for creating a resilient and long-lasting architecture of alliances and partnerships that could be sustained through the development of common approaches and standards to international problems.

To that end, he said that the most important thing was that the upcoming summit looks to craft politicly viable agreements on trade, security, and climate change, through the development of overlapping alliances and partnerships. Financing and technology partnerships, educational opportunities, and even vaccine diplomacy, he said, were also on the table.

The administration hopes to not simply achieve one specific deliverable, he underscored, but to build out a series of engagements that could develop ASEAN into an independent leader of the western Pacific.

“I think the key to an effective engagement between the United States and ASEAN is that it is multifaceted and has many strands,” Campbell said. “That is the key that we seek when the [ASEAN] leaders come to Washington.”

Andrew Thornebrooke


Andrew Thornebrooke is a reporter for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master’s in military history from Norwich University.

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