US engagement in South-east Asia summits shows its commitment to region: Senior diplomat

Senior US diplomat Daniel Kritenbrink said the country’s top priority in Indo-Pacific was to solidify strong mutual support and build the collective capacity of its regional partners and allies.

Tan Tam Mei

Tan Tam Mei

The Straits Times


The US will use the Asean Summit in Phnom Penh to strengthen economic ties and neutrality in the region. It hopes to build on the May 14, 2002, US-Asean special Summit in Washington (pictured here) to highlight US commitment to the region. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

November 11, 2022

BANGKOK – The United States’ strategic partnership with Asean is at the heart of its Indo-Pacific strategy, and its high-level engagements in the region show its commitment to work together to address global challenges, said a senior US diplomat on Thursday.

Mr Daniel Kritenbrink, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the country’s top priority in Indo-Pacific was to solidify strong mutual support and build the collective capacity of its regional partners and allies.

“This is so that we can, together, tackle shared challenges and seize common opportunities,” said Mr Kritenbrink, who is in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to attend the Asean Summit.

Speaking to the press in a phone conference along with US ambassador to Asean, Mr Yohannes Abraham, Mr Kritenbrink highlighted President Joe Biden’s attendance at the Asean Summit on Nov 12 and 13 and the Group of 20 meeting in Bali from Nov 15 to 16, as well as Vice-President Kamala Harris’ trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Bangkok later this month.

“This consistent high-level engagement… shows a clear picture of US excitement towards our partnerships with the region,” said Mr Kritenbrink.

He said this year’s regional summits were happening during a challenging time for the world, considering high inflation, growing food insecurity, rising borrowing costs and slow economic growth.

The US is committed to tackling these global challenges together with its Asean partners, he said.

During the call, Mr Abraham also laid out the US’ priorities for discussion in the coming days, which include the collective effort to end the crisis in Myanmar, combating climate change, concerns over maritime security and the Russia-Ukraine war.

“We have a shared commitment to sovereignty and territorial integrity with our Asean partners,” added Mr Abraham, commending Asean chair Cambodia’s invitation to Ukraine to participate in the summit, which saw the latter joining the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South-east Asia on Thursday.

“I think this showcases Asean’s long-standing and principled support for respecting national sovereignty,” he said.

When asked what the US would bring to the table for Asean as compared to China, whose economic and military influence has been growing in the region, Mr Kritenbrink said Washington offers “affirmative positive agendas” such as a large and growing trade-relationship, massive investments from the US private sector and contributions to regional peace and security, including the South China Sea.

“We are going to focus on intrinsic value… I will leave it to friends in the PRC (People’s Republic of China) or others to comment on what China may or may not bring to the table.”

The Indo-Pacific region has become a geopolitical battleground for US and China, with both stepping up engagement to strengthen economic and strategic ties in a battle for regional influence.

The G-20 summit will reportedly see a meeting between Mr Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines. Mr Biden said he wants to resolve areas of conflict, which include China’s increased military pressure on Taiwan.

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