From November 10 through 13, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit took place in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the two topics that loomed largest were the U.S.-China rivalry and Myanmar’s ongoing political crisis.
According to CNN, both Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden appeared at the ASEAN Summit. The United States and China have very different positions on several issues in Southeast Asia, including some that internally divide ASEAN member states. China, according to CNN, has made several territorial claims that contradict the claims of the Southeast Asian countries in that region. The biggest issue dividing the United States, China, and ASEAN members is the situation in Myanmar, whose new government is supported by China and some members of ASEAN, but not by the U.S. or other members of ASEAN.
ASEAN is made up of 10 countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Notably, Myanmar was not invited to the ASEAN Summit this year, according to CNBC. Myanmar was the site of a military coup in February of 2021, which ousted its democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. As ASEAN attempts to navigate a path forward after Myanmar failed to implement a negotiated peace plan, CNN reports that they must balance their response and their relationship with the U.S. and China.
While many hope to see a harder stance taken against the military junta in Myanmar, this would likely alienate China, and with the close ties that several nations have to China, this is not expected. At the same time, the U.S. has consistently worked to create policies that do not support the junta, according to CNN. What ASEAN will do remains to be seen, but hopes are not high for a more hardline response.
U.S. President Biden announced plans to step up involvement in the 10 ASEAN countries as well. According to The New York Times, President Biden announced initiatives to provide loans to female entrepreneurs, support access to clean water, and encourage electrical vehicle use in Southeast Asia. Much of Biden’s focus in foreign diplomacy has been showing up and having personal meetings with world leaders, reported The New York Times, which is of particular importance in Asia.
Prior to the beginning of the ASEAN Summit, ASEAN leaders and Biden announced closer ties with each other. According to Bloomberg, the relationship between the two was elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership. Though many of the ASEAN countries rely on their ties with the United States in their own individual economies, this step puts that relationship into play with all ASEAN countries and expands upon it. The partnership addresses many topics, including women’s empowerment, environmental and climate issues, energy, transportation, and health. While this is a large step forward in U.S.-ASEAN relations, ASEAN has been stepping up their ties with other countries in the same ways, including India, Australia, and Japan, reports Bloomberg.
While a wide variety of issues were addressed at the ASEAN Summit, among them navigational freedom, Myanmar, climate change, and economic relations, no large revelations were made between the U.S. and ASEAN. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that this was expected, though there were some unexpected moments from the summit. According to Reuters, Biden had been on a tight schedule, attending meetings with ASEAN in Cambodia, the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, and the G20 summit in Indonesia, and referred to Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia as the Prime Minister of Colombia. While this does not appear to have been taken negatively, it certainly has been noted both domestically and internationally.
Image courtesy of Republic of Korea