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Challenges Await Vice President Harris At ASEAN Summit Amid Biden's Absence

Southeast Asian leaders gather for the year's final summit, facing a host of pressing issues with no immediate solutions in sight. Challenges await Vice President Harris at ASEAN summit amid Biden's absence.

Daisy-Mae Schmitt
Sep 04, 202318 Shares17705 Views
Southeast Asian leaders gather for the year's final summit, facing a host of pressing issues with no immediate solutions in sight. Challenges await Vice President Harris at ASEAN summit amid Biden's absence.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings in Jakarta open against a backdrop of Myanmar's ongoing civil conflict, renewed tensions in the South China Sea, and the enduring rivalry between the United States and China.

The Absence Of U.S. President Joe Biden

Traditionally, U.S. President Joe Biden attends these summits, but his absence this year adds to the somber atmosphere.
The absence is notable given the usual show of unity among ASEAN member states and their counterparts.
It’s hard to look at what we’ve done as an administration, since the very beginning, and come away with a conclusion that we are somehow not interested in the Indo-Pacific or that we are deprioritizing the Southeast Asia nations and those relationships.- John Kirby, a national security spokesperson
After discussions among ASEAN heads of state, the meetings will expand to include Asian and Western counterparts, providing a forum for discussions on various global issues, including free trade, climate change, and global security.
These meetings have also become a battleground for the rivalries between the United States and China and their respective allies.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang's Participation

Chinese Premier Li Qiang will attend these meetings, including the East Asia Summit, where he will meet with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The presence of high-level representatives from major powers underscores the global significance of these meetings.
While President Biden is not attending the ASEAN meetings, he is planning a trip to Asia, including the G-20 summit in India and a visit to Vietnam to strengthen ties in the region.
The Biden administration emphasizes that this is not a sign of deprioritizing Southeast Asia but rather a part of their broader strategy to engage with the Indo-Pacific region.
Marty Natalegawa, a renowned former Indonesian foreign minister, expressed sadness at Biden's absence but said such warning lights were more disturbingly indicative of ASEAN's waning influence.
The absence of the U.S. president, while it is disappointing and symbolically significant, is for me the least of the worry because what’s more worrisome actually is the more fundamental structural tendency for ASEAN to become less and less prominent.- Marty Natalegawa, Former foreign minister of Indonesia

ASEAN's Challenges And Declining Relevance

Some experts express disappointment over Biden's non-appearance but argue that it reflects ASEAN's declining relevance in addressing critical regional issues.
ASEAN's principle of non-interference and consensus-based decision-making has made it challenging to take unified action on critical matters.
Myanmar's civil conflict, ongoing since the military coup two years ago, remains a significant concern. ASEAN's inability to address the situation effectively has raised questions about its effectiveness in resolving crises.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea also persist, with internal disagreements within ASEAN over their approach to global competition between the United States and China. Some member states seek closer ties with the U.S., while others align with China.
The European Union has warned that its relations with ASEAN could be affected by Myanmar's leadership role in the organization. Myanmar's military-led government has not been recognized by ASEAN but remains a member.
Myanmar may not chair the regional bloc in 2026 as scheduled, and ASEAN leaders will decide whether the Philippines should replace Myanmar as host for that year.
ASEAN countries leaders are standing on stage while holding hands of one another
ASEAN countries leaders are standing on stage while holding hands of one another

ASEAN's Need For Reform

To address such crises effectively, ASEAN member states have discussed proposed rules that would allow the group to make decisions even without consensus, a crucial reform to respond more swiftly to crises.
Vice President Kamala Harris's visit to Southeast Asia aims to reaffirm the U.S.'s commitment to the region, despite President Biden's absence.
Harris has become a key interlocutor for the administration as it seeks to strengthen partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to counterbalance Chinese influence.
These ASEAN meetings are crucial for addressing regional and global challenges, and Harris's presence underscores the United States' commitment to Southeast Asia.
While the meetings may not yield immediate solutions, they provide an essential forum for dialogue and cooperation in a region of growing geopolitical importance.

Final Words

In conclusion, Southeast Asian leaders are grappling with a multitude of pressing issues during their annual summit, with no quick resolutions in sight. The absence of U.S.
President Joe Biden adds to the complexity of the situation, highlighting the challenges faced by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in maintaining its relevance in addressing regional crises.
Myanmar's ongoing civil conflict and disputes in the South China Sea continue to dominate the agenda, showcasing ASEAN's limitations in taking unified action. The European Union's concerns over Myanmar's leadership role in ASEAN further complicate the situation.
Vice President Kamala Harris's presence reaffirms the United States' commitment to the region and its efforts to counterbalance Chinese influence. These meetings, though challenging, remain a crucial forum for dialogue and cooperation in an increasingly geopolitically significant part of the world.
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