Biden boosts Asean connection



Stuff NZ Newspapers


US President Joe Biden is nominating one of his top national security aides as ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), aiming to underscore his administration’s commitment to the Pacific region. Biden announced his decision to nominate Yohannes Abraham, chief of staff to the White House National Security Council, to serve as the US representative to the 10-country bloc as he wrapped up talks with Asean leaders, who had gathered in Washington, DC for a two-day ‘‘special summit’’. Biden’s efforts to put a greater emphasis on the Pacific region have been overtaken in recent months by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With his nomination of an ambassador to Asean, where the US is currently represented by a charge d’affaires, he has sought to send a message that he is serious about recalibrating American foreign policy to have a greater focus on Asia, and to strengthen America’s role as a counterweight to China’s rapid rise in the region. Earlier, Vice-President Kamala Harris met with the Asean leaders and said that ‘‘the United States and Asean have shared a vision for this region, and together will guard against threats to international rules and norms’’. The comment, during a session that focused in part on freedom of the seas, appeared to reference China’s increasingly aggressive military actions in the South China Sea and beyond. Biden said strengthening the US relationship with Asean was ‘‘at the very heart’’ of his foreign policy strategy. White House officials said Biden spoke with Asean leaders in private about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Some Asean members – Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos – have depended on Russia for military hardware. With the exception of Singapore – the only member to impose direct sanctions against Moscow – the alliance has avoided criticising Russian President Vladimir Putin or Russia’s prosecution of the war. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, currently president of the Group of 20 – the world’s largest economies – has resisted Biden’s calls to bar Russia from a G20 summit in Bali this year. Another potential sticking point in US relations is a Commerce Department investigation that could result in steep tariffs on solar panels and parts imported from Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. A California-based solar company says Chinese producers are unfairly skirting US duties by performing minor assembly in the four smaller countries. The Asean summit came just before Biden’s trip next week to South Korea and Japan – his first visit to Asia as president. He will also meet during the trip with leaders from the IndoPacific strategic alliance known as the Quad, made up of Australia, India and Japan in addition to the US.