Biden to host Southeast Asian leaders for May 12-13 summit

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President Joe Biden will host leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian nations in Washington next month for a summit, the White House said Saturday.

The May 12-13 gathering is meant to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to being a partner with countries in the region.

The White House previously had announced that the summit would be held March 28-29, but the regional grouping of countries known as ASEAN sought a postponement due to scheduling concerns among some of its members.

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The summit will commemorate 45 years of relations between the US and the ASEAN nations. The gathering follows Biden’s participation in an October 2021 summit where he announced $102 million in new initiatives to help these countries with COVID-19 and health security, climate change, economic growth and gender equality.

“It is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration to serve as a strong, reliable partner in Southeast Asia,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Saturday in a statement.

“Our shared aspirations for the region will continue to underpin our common commitment to advance an Indo-Pacific that is free and open, secure, connected, and resilient.”

ASEAN’s 10 members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Its members have been at odds with each other over Myanmar, which has been wracked by violent unrest since the army ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February last year.

ASEAN is seeking to implement a five-point plan for Myanmar it reached last year stressing dialogue, humanitarian assistance and an end to violence. But Myanmar’s ruling military council has delayed the plan’s implementation even as the country has slipped into a situation that some UN experts have described as civil war.

Myanmar’s lack of cooperation led ASEAN last year to bar its leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, from attending its annual summit meeting, an unprecedented step for the body whose members traditionally have avoided public criticism of each other and have operated by consensus.

It has applied a similar policy for subsequent meetings, saying that it would allow Myanmar to send only non-political representatives.

Biden hosted Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, for talks last month in which the president tried to assure Singapore and other Pacific allies that the administration remains focused on the region even while working with Europe and other allies to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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