US-ASEAN virtual summit Photograph:( Reuters )
The US President in his opening remarks to the summit said that the United States is committed to the central role of the ten nation ASEAN in the region
US President Joe Biden met with leaders from Southeast Asia for a virtual summit in Washington's first high-level engagement with the bloc in four years.
The summit is seen as an attempt aimed at containing China's growing assertiveness, with Biden striving to strengthen US presence in the Pacific amid China's emergence as a national security and economic adversary.
After former President Donald Trump's visit to Manila in 2017, there had not been a presidential-level meeting between the US and the ASEAN.
The virtual conference marked the start of three days of discussions held by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which will include US President Joe Biden, as well as Chinese and Russian leaders.
The US President in his opening remarks to the summit said that the United States is committed to the central role of the ten nation ASEAN in the region, and in the future, the ASEAN nations can expect him to personally show up in the region.
"The relationship between the United States and ASEAN is vital, vital for the future of all one billion of our people," Biden said. "Our partnership is essential to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific, which has been the foundation of our shared security and prosperity for many decades."
According to the White House, Biden also denounced the coup and "horrific violence" in Myanmar.
Addressing the virtual summit, he "expressed grave concerns about the military coup and horrific violence in Burma and called on the country's military regime to immediately end the violence, release those unjustly detained, and restore Burma's path to democracy," a statement said.
As per the White House, Biden is expected to announce plans to provide up to $102 million to expand the US strategic partnership with ASEAN, with funds going towards health, climate, education, and economic programs.
He is also expected to reassure ASEAN that recent US efforts to engage with India, Japan and Australia in the so-called Quad grouping and an agreement to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines are not intended to supplant ASEAN's role in the region.
Analysts say that Biden's meeting with the 10-nation bloc is a sign that his administration is engaging allies and partners in a collective effort to push back at China.
Also read | ASEAN summit kicks off without Myanmar representative
In his remarks, Biden referred to a "shared vision for a region where every country can compete and succeed on a level playing field and all nations, no matter how big or powerful, abide by the law."
However, he avoided specific references to China, as have US officials in the lead-up to the meetings as they work to arrange a virtual summit between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this year.