Harris tells ASEAN leaders US committed ‘for generations’

WASHINGTON: Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday (May 13) that the United States was committed to Southeast Asia for the long haul as the region’s leaders held a first summit in Washington.

“Our administration recognises the vital strategic importance of your region, a role that will only grow with time,” Harris told leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations over a working lunch at the State Department.

“As an Indo-Pacific nation, the United States will be present and continue to be engaged in Southeast Asia for generations to come,” she said.

President Joe Biden will address the leaders later Friday after inviting them Thursday night to the White House for a dinner of poached chicken, ravioli and vanilla ice cream.

The Biden administration is hoping to demonstrate a sustained interest in Southeast Asia after months focused on repelling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Biden took office saying that his top foreign policy priority would be the global competition with China, which has surpassed the United States as Southeast Asia’s top trading partner and has been increasingly assertive on territorial disputes in the region.

The Biden administration promised US$150 million in new initiatives during the summit including support for maritime security, with the US Coast Guard to deploy a cutter in Southeast Asia to help fight illegal fishing and other crime.

Biden is expected to announce a broader package, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, when he travels next week to Japan and South Korea.