Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that the United States was committed to Southeast Asia for the long haul as the region’s leaders held a first summit in Washington.
“Our administration recognizes the vital strategic importance of your region, a role that will only grow with time,” Harris told leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations over a working lunch at the State Department.
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“As an Indo-Pacific nation, the United States will be present and continue to be engaged in Southeast Asia for generations to come,” she said.
President Joe Biden will address the leaders later Friday after inviting them Thursday night to the White House for a dinner of poached chicken, ravioli and vanilla ice cream.
The Biden administration is hoping to demonstrate a sustained interest in Southeast Asia after months focused on repelling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden took office saying that his top foreign policy priority would be the global competition with China, which has surpassed the United States as Southeast Asia’s top trading partner and has been increasingly assertive on territorial disputes in the region.
The Biden administration promised $150 million in new initiatives during the summit including support for maritime security, with the US Coast Guard to deploy a cutter in Southeast Asia to help fight illegal fishing and other crime.
Biden is expected to announce a broader package, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, when he travels next week to Japan and South Korea.
The Biden administration has made some headway in Southeast Asia in opposing Russia’s invasion, with all 10 ASEAN nations either supporting or abstaining in a UN General Assembly vote of condemnation.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, meeting Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said ASEAN’s largest nation believed in “respecting territorial integrity and sovereignty of a country to another country.”
“Our hope is to see the war in Ukraine stop as soon as possible, and we give the peaceful resolution of a conflict a chance to succeed,” she said.
“Because we know that if the war continues, all of us will suffer.”
Indonesia is the host of the Group of 20 summit in November and has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite US calls to isolate him, but in a compromise said it would also welcome Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.