Friday, February 3

Southeast Asian leaders meet Biden in Washington with China in the crosshairs


Updated

Biden tries to shore up his influence in the region after Trump neglected it in order to “promote a free and open Indo-Pacific”

Joe Biden (center) poses for a family photo with ASEAN leaders.EFE
  • wide angle The new Cold War between China and the Aukus in the remote islands of the Pacific
  • Diplomacy The new Cold War between China and the US: the end of the preferential treatment of Hong Kong and the dispute in the South Sea

Recover the ground lost with Trump in favor of China in a key region in world trade where more than 600 million people live. Since Joe Biden reached the White House, that has been the priority objective of Washington’s foreign policy; redirect the old alliances in Southeast Asia.

Beneath the economic facade and the trips of emissaries from one place to another, the purpose is build a united front against the expanding power of Peking around the world. Likewise, surrounding the rival by strengthening alliances both with its neighbors to the south and with the powers of the Pacific (japan, South Korea Y Australia), is the strategy in motion every time the US administration looks up from the war in ukraine.

This Thursday and Friday the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which Biden considers a key bloc to face the rise of China, which is also the region’s largest economic partner. For now though, ASEAN countries are keeping their distance from siding with Washington in its fight with Beijing, due to their reliance on Chinese trade and investment, as US economic incentives are comparatively limited.

The US president has hosted a summit that marks the first time ASEAN leaders have met as a group at the White House and their first meeting organized by a US president since 2016, when they met with former President Barak Obama. in California. at this summit the leader of Burma has been absentThe general Min Aung Hlaingexcluded for his coup in February 2021, and the president of the philippineswhich is in the midst of a transition of powers -from Rodrigo Duterte a Ferdinand Marcos Jr.after last Monday’s elections.

After the first meetings, in which the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the Vice President, Kamala Harris, also participated, The United States has offered a package of 150 million dollars to the 10 countries that make up ASEAN – each with very different interests to protect – for various initiatives ranging from maritime cooperation to clean energy. Six months ago, China He also promised a strong stimulus to his neighbors to support the economic recovery after the pandemic, but the sum amounted to $1.5 billion.

The Biden administration has said the largest distribution would be $60 million for “promote a free and open Indo-Pacific”a recurring phrase of the leaders of Washington that the newspapers that serve as the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party usually translate as the creation of a “NATO in the Indo-Pacific against China”.

That promised money, according to the White House, will allow the US Coast Guard to allocate more resources to “security training and cooperation” in a region where four ASEAN members (Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia Y Bruni) have disputes with Peking over various islands in the South China Sea. The Coast Guard will also deploy a ship to the region to help local fleets counter what Washington and some Asian nations describe as China’s illegal fishing.

The rest of the money will be used to “support digital innovation, fight Covid-19 and airborne diseases in Southeast Asia, and clean energy development.” Taking out his wallet, Biden tries to make amends for former President Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, a free trade pact in the region that excluded China, and non-adherence to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the treaty largest free trade agreement in the world, signed by 15 countries and involving almost a third of the world’s population.

“We are not asking countries to choose between the United States and China”, a senior Biden administration official has said before the summit began. They don’t see it like that from Peking. On Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijiang, has warned Washington not to “damage” peace and regional unity.

“The United States should not use cooperation as a cover to pressure others to take sides, or play with fire on issues related to China’s core interests,” said Zhao, who has also accused the United States of trying to spark a race. arms race in Asia-Pacific. From the Asian giant they are sharpening their criticism more and more, while Biden prepares to cross the pond and travel next week to South Korea and Japan, two key allies in the new cold war starring the two strongest economies in the world.

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