The White House is defending itself from criticism that President Joe Biden is not being a "generous" host to his Southeast Asian counterparts while they are in Washington.
The United States is "bending over backwards" for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during its special summit with Biden this Thursday and Friday, according to a senior administration official.
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"The president will have quick private time with each of the leaders," the official told reporters Wednesday. "We're trying to balance opportunities for private interaction with individual countries, but the larger engagement with ASEAN as a whole."
Kao Kim Hourn, a minister and close adviser to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, complained this week that Biden "should be more generous to the guests," particularly as he seeks to counter China's influence in the region.
The White House has been needled on how it will handle Hun as the current ASEAN chairman given the allegations of corruption and human rights violations levied against the strongman during his 37-year reign.
"The president will, of course, not hold back from expressing his views and his priorities to promote human rights in that region," deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said earlier Wednesday.
This week's special summit is the first time ASEAN — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — has convened in Washington, according to the official Wednesday afternoon. Myanmar has declined to send a nonpolitical spokesperson, an option forced by the military regime's failure to implement ASEAN's five-point consensus.
"We are in discussions about the best way to represent what has transpired in Burma and how to represent that in the meeting," the official said. "One of the discussions has been to have an empty chair to reflect our dissatisfaction with what's taken place and our hope for a better path forward."
In addition to a White House dinner Thursday, this week's agenda includes engagements with Cabinet members, lawmakers, and business executives, such as Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, according to the official. Topics are expected to range from the COVID-19 pandemic to technology, climate, and energy.
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The ASEAN summit precedes Biden's trip to Japan and South Korea later this month, where he will meet with their respective newly elected heads of government. Biden will also talk with Quadrilateral Security Dialogue participants Australia, India, and Japan in Tokyo.