The recent summit between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was hailed by President Joe Biden as a watershed moment in US-ASEAN relations, ushering in a “new era” of cooperation. The meeting was historic in many ways. The two sides committed to upgrading ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership, on par with ASEAN’s ties with China and Australia. The summit also marked the first time that ASEAN leaders were hosted in Washington, D.C. They were able to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris, six cabinet members, congressional leaders, corporate executives, and civil society leaders, in addition to President Biden and State Department officials.
As a result, ASEAN leaders and a wide range of government, corporate, and civil society actors in the United States were able to network. The summit also provided an opportunity for the current government to highlight ASEAN’s strategic and economic significance to a US audience.
After the Trump administration’s deprivation of Southeast Asia, the Biden administration tried to reassure ASEAN nations that the US is committed to the region and its centrality. The summit was held in the midst of Russia’s war against Ukraine and discussions about NATO expansion, allowing Washington to show that it could maintain its focus on ASEAN despite other demands on its time.
According to some Southeast Asian observers, the new US projects, especially those that involve defense cooperation, represent US interests rather than ASEAN interests. According to some Southeast Asian observers, the new US projects, especially those that involve defense cooperation, represent US interests rather than ASEAN interests. Others argue that ASEAN raised health, climate, and education issues last year, and that their inclusion in Washington’s package is welcome. All agree that the US package is insignificant when compared to China’s $1.5 billion vow from last year.
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