Kyodo News
May 14, 2022

U.S., ASEAN leaders vow to upgrade ties this year amid China’s rise

WASHINGTON – The leaders of the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Friday declared that they will elevate their relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” later this year amid China’s growing clout in the region.

China has preceded the United States in upgrading its relations with the 10-member group to a similar status, and the latest development reflects intensifying competition between Beijing and Washington for influence in the fast-growing Southeast Asian region.

U.S. President Joe Biden told a meeting with his counterparts in Washington, “We’re launching a new era in U.S.-ASEAN relations,” while welcoming the 45th anniversary of their ties this year.

Placing an emphasis on ASEAN is the “very heart” of U.S. strategy to achieve a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific, Biden said, alluding to…key sea lanes including the South China Sea where Beijing is making extensive territorial claims.

It was the first time that the United States has hosted ASEAN leaders in Washington. The multilateral organization comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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The joint statement said the United States and ASEAN will continue to work to advance stronger and inclusive economic growth, such as through “the vital economic participation” of the United States in the region.

They also called for the “immediate cessation of violence” in Myanmar following its military coup last year, and vowed to redouble efforts toward “a peaceful solution” in the Southeast Asian nation.

As the Biden administration rallies countries around the world to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion, the joint statement called for “respect for sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity.”