The United States has promised to spend US $150 million on Southeast Asian infrastructure, security, pandemic preparedness and other efforts that observers say are aimed at countering China’s influence in the region.
On Thursday (12 May), U.S. President Joe Biden started a two-day summit with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Washington with a dinner for the leaders at the White House ahead of talks at the State Department on Friday (13 May).
Biden smiled broadly as he took a group photo on the South Lawn of the White House before the dinner with representatives from Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is on the agenda, Biden’s administration hopes the efforts will show the countries that Washington remains focused on the Asia-Pacific and the long-term challenge of China, which the U.S. views as its main competitor.
Responding to Biden’s latest move, China’s foreign ministry said it welcomes any cooperation that promotes sustainable development and prosperity in the region.
Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Friday that “China and ASEAN do not engage in zero-sum games and do not promote bloc confrontation.”
Analysts have noted that Biden’s commitments pale in comparison to China’s deep ties and influence.
In November alone, China pledged $1.5 billion in development assistance to ASEAN countries over three years to fight the pandemic and fuel economic recovery.