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The United States on Thursday announced investments worth US$150 million in Southeast Asia, in projects ranging from energy to combating illegal fishing. The announcement was made within the framework of the summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which continues this Friday.

The administration of Joe Biden, US President, this week reserved a space on the agenda of the foreign relations to dedicate itself to the relationship with Asia-Pacific, despite the continuation of the war in Ukraine. It is the first time that Washington has hosted a summit between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). On Thursday, the White House announced investments worth about $150 million (approximately €144 million) in the region.

The summit is seen as a way for Biden to increase cooperation in an area of the world where China has growing influence. “While competition with China is at the heart of the US regional strategy, support for a cohesive and resilient ASEAN is critical to advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific,” analyst Brian Harding said in a publication in the United States Institute of Peace. In addition to China’s influence, Brian Harding wrote that other topics are expected to be discussed, such as the crisis in Myanmar (formerly Burma).

A senior administration official – who is not identified in the statement issued by the White House – acknowledged that China has an important role in the region but that countries are not being asked to make a choice between the two sides. Despite this, he tried to relativize the growth of bilateral relations with China, pointing out that “naturally the countries that are closest to China have a significant interest in expanding trade ties”, but making an exception “in terms of quality”.

“I think the US plays an extremely important role in virtually every economy of the countries that will be here. And this role is not measured only in goods and bilateral trade. It’s measured in services, it’s also measured in investment,” said the official, noting that the US remains the main source of foreign direct investment in several of the countries.

A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented this Friday that there is no reason why China and the United States cannot “share regional friends”. On cooperation between China and ASEAN, Zhao Lijian said it is based on mutually beneficial cooperation and maintaining regional stability. “China welcomes all cooperation initiatives as long as they can promote long-term and sustainable common development and prosperity in the region,” he said at a press conference.

At a time when there were recent presidential elections in the Philippines, it was also stressed that the US “has long alliances with the Philippines and Thailand”. In anticipation of the summit, which took place this Thursday and Friday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken tweeted that “the US will continue to be a strong, trusted and active partner in supporting ASEAN’s vision for the future. ”

A senior administration official – who is not identified in the statement issued by the White House – revealed that the United States will invest 40 million dollars in clean energy infrastructure in Southeast Asia. A step that he considers “critical not only to help respond to climate change”, but also to “support economic growth” in these countries.

The highest amount goes to new regional maritime initiatives, with a commitment of US$60 million. The US Coast Guard will assign more personnel to the Indo-Pacific for training, as well as launch projects to combat illegal fishing and illegal work in the industry.

APPEALS FOR RESPONDING
The White House said the purpose of the summit is to ensure the United States’ commitment to cooperation with ASEAN to ensure “security, prosperity and respect for human rights.” But there have not yet been any other public references to human rights.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the summit should directly confront the decline in human rights and democracy in the region. Among them the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Myanmar since the 2021 military coup. “The Biden administration will have to convince the ASEAN autocrats at the summit that the future of the alliance depends on democratic reform,” said the director of HRW’s Asia activism.

In addition, more than 60 entities signed a joint letter urging Biden to ask the Thai government to drop the proposed law on the operation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the summit.

“If this proposal becomes law, we anticipate that many of the organizations that sign and support this letter will face punitive actions, including intrusive investigations, public threats and ultimately orders from government officials to close operations.”

According to the letter, the proposal would allow the closure of NGOs operating in Thailand if they carry out activities that “cause divisions in society”, “affect the normal and happy existence of other people” or that affect “relationships between countries”, for example.

Source: With Agencies

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