The United States advances its “strategic partnership” with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as President Joe Biden’s administration aims to launch a new “Indo-Pacific economic framework” in the United States. early 2022.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to undertake a series of face-to-face meetings with foreign ministers from the Southeast Asian bloc on his upcoming trip to the UK, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and in Hawaii from December 9 to 17.
For the first time, ASEAN members are invited to attend a meeting of G-7 Foreign and Development Ministers to be held in the UK city of Liverpool later this week. The G-7 is the grouping of the richest democracies in the world, more officially known as the Group of Seven.
Blinken is due to meet some of his counterparts from the Southeast Asia bloc at the G-7 meeting before heading to Asia-Pacific next week.
In Jakarta, he will deliver remarks on the importance of the Indo-Pacific region and stress the importance of the US-Indonesia strategic partnership.
“The secretary will have the opportunity to discuss the Indo-Pacific economic framework recently announced by the president,” State Department Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink said at the meeting. a conference call. “President Biden is committed to raising the engagement of the United States and ASEAN to unprecedented levels. ”
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world. Kritenbrink told VOA on Wednesday that Blinken would attend a vaccination clinic organized by Indonesia’s largest faith-based NGO.
The senior US diplomat will then travel to Malaysia and Thailand where he will attempt to advance US relations with these countries and address common challenges including COVID-19, building resilient supply chains, the crisis. climate and the guarantee of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. .
The State Department said Blinken “will tackle the worsening crisis in Burma” in each country on the long journey. Burma is also known as Myanmar, where the military seized power in a coup in February, toppling the civilian government.
US officials had indicated that the new “Indo-Pacific economic framework” would include broad partnerships with countries in the region in critical areas, including the digital economy and technology, supply chain resilience and clean energy.
“The Indo-Pacific region is an essential part of our economy. It’s not just that it represents more than half of the world’s population and 60% of global GDP, ”said Jose Fernandez, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and Energy. environment, during a recent briefing.
“Seven of the top 15 US export markets are in the Indo-Pacific. Bilateral trade between the United States and the region was over $ 1.75 trillion, ”he added.
There are fears, however, that the United States may be lagging behind China in deepening economic and strategic ties with ASEAN.
“ASEAN countries want more Washington economically, but the Indo-Pacific economic framework proposed by the Biden administration may not meet their expectations,” said Susannah Patton, policy program researcher foreign and defense in the United States. Study Center in Sydney.
“After RCEP goes into effect, there will be two mega trade pacts in Asia: RCEP and CPTPP, and the US is not a party of either,” Patton said, referring to a known trade deal. under the name of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, as well as the Comprehensive Economic Partnership. and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
“China’s bid to join the CPTPP, a vehicle designed to promote US economic ties with Asia, highlights Washington’s absence,” Patton told VOA on Wednesday. The CPTPP is a free trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam that was signed in 2018.
In November 2020, 10 ASEAN member states and five other countries (Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand) signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, accounting for around 30% of gross domestic product and population. global. RCEP will come into effect in January.
Others said the new Indo-Pacific economic framework does not appear to be all about traditional commerce, as Washington signals strategic interests in the region.
“Take semiconductors for example; As important players in chip packaging and manufacturing, ASEAN countries such as Malaysia and Singapore can play an important role in helping the United States build resilient supply chains for semi -conductors, ”Ngor Luong, research analyst at the Center for Security and Emerging Technologies at Georgetown University, told VOA.
Blinken’s trip comes as the Southeast Asian bloc marks the 30th anniversary of the ASEAN-China dialogue. In a joint statement, ASEAN and China announced the establishment of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” to reaffirm cooperation in areas such as political-security, economic and socio-cultural aspects.
The joint statement said ASEAN and China support efforts to preserve Southeast Asia as a region “free from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”
“The language supporting the nuclear-weapon-free zone in Southeast Asia and opposing proliferation is not new – ASEAN has been talking about it for decades – but China’s strong support for SEANWFZ has been a response to AUKUS, “said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
SEANWFZ refers to the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone.
AUKUS is a security agreement between the United States, Great Britain and Australia. It is believed to be designed to contain the expansion of China and is strongly opposed by Beijing.
“Within ASEAN, Singapore and the Philippines have explicitly endorsed AUKUS, Vietnam quietly supports and Indonesia is in conflict, including the recent Defense Minister’s statement which was quite supportive. Only Malaysia has explicitly criticized AUKUS, ”added Poling.
Others noted that the mixed signals sent by ASEAN members come amid growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea over territorial disputes and in the context of Beijing’s test of a hypersonic weapon system in the atmosphere above the sea.
“China’s actions and words generally don’t match, and the challenge facing ASEAN countries is to maintain their independence from China’s sphere of influence,” Ngor Luong said.