President Joe Biden is proposing more than $150 million in spending as he attempts to demonstrate his commitment to Southeast Asia.
The White House announced the framework as leaders from eight of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — meet in Washington, D.C., for the first U.S.-ASEAN summit in the capital. Burma declined to send a nonpolitical representative after the military regime failed to implement ASEAN's five-point consensus, and the Philippines is not in attendance either.
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A sizable chunk of the spending, $60 million, has been allocated for new maritime initiatives as China asserts itself in the South China Sea, according to a senior administration official.
"The U.S. Coast Guard will deploy a cutter to Southeast Asian Oceania for security cooperation and to operate as a training platform," the source said. "We will also prioritize the transfer of ships, excess defense articles to Southeast Asian countries to increase the coastal nation's maritime law enforcement capacity, and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific."
The official tried to make clear the United States was not forcing ASEAN members to choose between the U.S. and China, insisting the U.S. was only seeking "strong relationships." The White House, too, added that Thursday's announcement was separate from Biden's Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, particularly as the U.S. has de-prioritized negotiations over market access when China has not.
"In virtually all these countries, the U.S. remains the largest source of foreign direct investment, and that U.S. foreign direct investment has produced a high-quality area where the countries in the region are able to participate in much higher value chains," the official said.
Biden proposed $800 million for bilateral ASEAN assistance and more than $25 million to "deepen relations," in addition to helping the group address regional challenges, in his fiscal year 2023 budget. During his first U.S.-ASEAN summit last year, he floated that $102 million be focused on health, climate, science and innovation, trade facilitation, and education collaboration.
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Aside from a White House dinner Thursday, the two-day agenda includes engagements with Cabinet members, lawmakers, and business executives, such as Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, according to another senior administration official. Discussions are expected to cover the COVID-19 pandemic as well as technology, climate, and energy.