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WASHINGTON – The United States will be rolling out a series of programmes, from education to climate and infrastructure, to demonstrate its commitment to South-east Asia, said a senior White House official on Wednesday (May 11) ahead of a special summit with US and Asean leaders.
Dr Kurt Campbell, the US coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council, said the initiatives underscored that America would be a steady partner to the region, instead of promising commitment and getting distracted – a common critique of its approach in the past.
The programmes were also part of an effort to meet Asean’s needs, rather than being geared towards competition with China, he said at an event hosted by the United States Institute of Peace, a federal institution.
His comments came a day before the Asean-US Special Summit, which takes place on Thursday and Friday in Washington. Eight out of 10 Asean countries will attend the summit, excluding outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.
Dr Campbell said the Biden administration had learnt from past US approaches to the region, including the Obama administration’s Pivot to Asia foreign policy of which he was an architect, and added that Washington would seek to go beyond military and security cooperation.
“There is a much deeper sense this time around that resources will be critical, and that it will not be just about diplomacy, just about military developments,” he said.
“It has to be about a much deeper set of across-the-government initiatives that signify and signal a determination to have a deeper engagement in the Indo-Pacific.”
He said many of the programmes that linked the US to South-east Asia have “dried up or moved on”, adding that the US was trying to return to educational programmes, such as teaching English as a foreign language and leadership training.
“What we’re trying to do is actually meet Asean where the interests of their people coincide with ours,” he said.
He also cited other issues of concern that included disaster preparedness, maritime domain awareness, investment in green energy and public health.
Dr Campbell said that while the US was in competition with China, President Joe Biden “does not want to descend South-east Asia or Asia into a new Cold War”.
“We recognise quite clearly that any initiative that is simply designed for competition is likely to have difficulty gaining altitude in Asia. It must be based on the needs and the desires of the people of South-east Asia,” he said.
Dr Campbell said the summit would be “two intense days of dialogue and consultation”, adding that topics discussed would include Myanmar, China, cross-Strait relations and how the war in Ukraine impacts the Indo-Pacific.
During the summit, the US will also brief Asean leaders on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), the Biden administration’s economic strategy for the region, said Dr Campbell without going into further detail.
He added that there was “substantial interest in participating in IPEF across South-east Asia” and that he expected some members of Asean to join the framework.
By Charissa Yong
Asia News Network: The Nation (Thailand), The Korea Herald, The Straits Times (Singapore), China Daily, Jakarta Post, The Star and Sin Chew Daily (Malaysia), The Statesman (India), Philippine Daily Inquirer, Yomiuri Shimbun and The Japan News, Gogo Mongolia, Dawn (Pakistan), The Island (Sri Lanka), Kuensel (Bhutan), Kathmandu Post (Nepal), Daily Star (Bangladesh), Eleven Media (Myanmar), the Phnom Penh Post and Rasmei Kampuchea (Cambodia), The Borneo Bulletin (Brunei), Vietnam News, and Vientiane Times (Laos).
Published : May 12, 2022
By : The Straits Times