End-March US-ASEAN summit postponed, rotating SE Asian bloc leader Cambodia says

President Joe Biden had invited leaders of the 10-member Southeast Asian bloc for a summit on March 28-29.
By RFA Staff
2022.03.09
End-March US-ASEAN summit postponed, rotating SE Asian bloc leader Cambodia says U.S. President Joe Biden (C) taking part in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-U.S. Summit on the sidelines of the 2021 ASEAN summit held online from Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, October 26, 2021.
AFP

UPDATED at 9:22 A.M. ET on 2022-03-10

A summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) slated for the end of this month has been postponed, Cambodia's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Biden had invited leaders of the 10-member Southeast Asian bloc to Washington, D.C., for a summit on March 28-29. The U.S. sees the region as critical to its efforts to push back against China's rising power in the South China Sea and across the Indo-Pacific region.

The summit "will be delayed because some ASEAN leaders can’t join the meeting as scheduled,” Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn told the pro-government outlet Fresh News on Wednesday.

Cambodia is the current chair of ASEAN.

On Monday Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said at least three ASEAN leaders wanted to reschedule the meeting.

"Some ASEAN leaders wanted the meeting to be held between March 26-27 but the U.S said it couldn’t accommodate 26-27, while three ASEAN leaders couldn’t join the 26-27,” Hun Sen said. He did not identify the countries.

In response to a request for comment from RFA-affiliated Benar News, Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Thursday that "the proposed date does not allow all ASEAN heads of state to participate," without providing further details. Indonesia is the coordinator of the summit.

The U.S. State Department had yet to confirm the postponement on Thursday, and there were no immediate comments on the summit from other members of ASEAN.

Washington, under the Biden administration, has been ratcheting up its engagement with Southeast Asia, where it has traditional treaty allies as well as other partners.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Indonesia and Malaysia in December, a trip that followed visits to the region by Vice President Kamala Harris, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and State Department Counselor Derek Chollett.

Blinken had earlier laid out a “new, comprehensive Indo-Pacific Strategy,” that emphasized the U.S. view of ASEAN and Southeast Asia’s importance to the Indo-Pacific region.

Speaking last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “It is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration to serve as a strong, reliable partner and to strengthen an empowered and unified ASEAN to address the challenges of our time.”

ASEAN has been grappling with a 13-month-old crisis in bloc member Myanmar, where a military junta is bombing and burning swathes of the country to quell resistance to the overthrow of the elected government in February 2021.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also posed a challenge to ASEAN unity, with the bloc as whole calling for a ceasefire without naming Russia or using the word “invasion” while members supported much a tougher U.N. General Assembly resolution against Moscow.

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun, Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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