Blinken to meet with ASEAN ministers for the first time

Photo: The Guardian

The US and ASEAN will hold virtual talks today between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and ASEAN’s foreign ministers.

It is the first such meeting between US President Joe Biden’s administration and the South-East Asian regional bloc and comes amid ongoing US-China competition in the Indo-Pacific region. Biden’s predecessor Trump administration rarely engaged with the bloc, preferring to focus on bilateral ties with allies rather than multilateral relations.

Expect much greater US engagement with ASEAN under Biden in a bid to counter China’s strong influence in the region making some member-states increasingly economically-reliant on Beijing. Washington almost certainly plans further high-level attendances at the various ASEAN economic and defence summits, the continuation of US-ASEAN military exercises, and to deepen relations with traditional US allies in forums like the Philippines and Thailand.

The real test, however, is how Biden deals with ASEAN’s traditional neutrality stance vis-à-vis the US and China. The bloc seeks to influence both superpowers and to use ASEAN as its main conduit for engaging in the region. Seemingly aligned Sino-American views towards resolving the Myanmar crisis through ASEAN’s envoys serves as an example. Washington is unlikely to favor this view for dealing with US-China disputes in the South-China Sea.

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