Biden will host Southeast Asian leaders as he tries to return focus to China The leaders at the two-day summit in Washington will discuss a wide range of topics, but the president plans to use it to show a united front in Beijing.
Despite the attention that the war in Ukraine has demanded from him, President Biden remains focused on preventing China from dominating the Indo-Pacific, a senior official said.
WASHINGTON - President Biden plans to host the leaders of Southeast Asian nations at the White House on Thursday and Friday, delivering a message of solidarity and aiming to provide a bulwark against Chinese influence in the region - even as much of his administration remains focused on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The two-day summit will cover a wide range of topics including trade, human rights and climate change, but it is also part of an effort by Mr. Biden's foreign policy team to highlight one of the president's primary goals: assembling a united front against China as it shows its economic and military might around the world. As a candidate, Mr. Biden promised to make China a central focus of his foreign policy. A senior administration official acknowledged on Wednesday that the war in Europe had created daily demands that had consumed the time and energy of the president and his team. The official said that Biden remained concerned about, and focused on, the need to prevent China from dominating the Indo-Pacific, and that he asked for anonymity to discuss preparations for the summit. The gathering of 10 world leaders in Washington for two days is an opportunity to demonstrate that commitment, the official said. Biden is traveling from May 20 to May 24 to Japan and South Korea, a trip that will focus in large part on China. White House officials haven't provided details about the trip, but he is expected to meet with fellow leaders of the other so-called Quad countries: India, Japan and Australia. On Thursday, the leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will meet Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers before they gather at a Washington hotel to discuss business opportunities with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and executives from American industries. The administration official said Biden plans to host the leaders for what he said will be an intimate dinner at the White House on Thursday night. The Asian leaders will meet Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in the morning, and then with Mr. Biden at the White House later in the day. The administration official said that the group would discuss trading opportunities, transit through disputed waterways, including the South China Sea, and other topics. One of them is likely to be Myanmar, one of the group's members, where Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted as the country's civilian leader last year when the military staged a coup. The administration official said that the United States and countries in the region were focused on the situation and frustrated by it. He said that the planners of Thursday's summit were considering placing an empty chair in the room where the leaders were meeting to register their disapproval. Ms. Harris will be able to demonstrate her focus on the region at the summit. She led an American delegation to Asia last summer, using a speech in Singapore to denounce China's unlawful claims over the South China Sea, which she said undermines the rules-based order and threatens the sovereignty of nations. The administration official said Ms Harris planned to use Friday s meeting with the Asian leaders to focus more on climate action, clean energy and sustainable infrastructure.