Biden Pledges $102 Million to Southeast Asian Nations for Pandemic Relief and Climate Action

President Joe Biden on Oct. 26 pledged $102 million for COVID-19 relief, climate action, education and economic support to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Biden, who joined the association’s virtual summit on Tuesday, told ASEAN Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi and leaders from nine of 10 member states, that the partnership is “essential” to the architecture of the Indo-Pacific region.

“You can expect to see me personally showing up and reaching out to you,” Biden said at the start of the meeting. “You can expect to see the United States deepening our long-standing cooperation pursuing new avenues of ministerial dialogue, investing in our countries and driving inclusive prosperity in the region.”

The U.S. has invested $3.5 billion to support public health in ASEAN over the past 20 years, according to the White House.

Burmese military leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power through a military coup on Feb. 1, has been excluded from the three-day virtual summit. The AP reports Brunei, which is this year’s ASEAN chair, invited Burmese diplomat, U Chan Aye, as a “non-political” representative, but he didn’t attend the meeting.

The association has been under international pressure to take steps to help end the violence in Burma, which has left an estimated 1,100 civilians dead since the army took power and locked up civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others.

ASEAN’s “Five Point Consensus” calls for immediate cessation of violence in Burma, constructive dialogue among all parties concerned, mediation facilitated by ASEAN, humanitarian assistance and an association special envoy visit to Burma.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Oct. 26 he has recently engaged with senior officials in Myanmar’s (Burma) National Unity Government (NUG), an administration set up by opponents of the military coup. Sullivan says discussions were around humanitarian aid to the Burmese people and broader diplomacy in the region.

“We will continue to stay focused on our steadfast support for the people of Burma, for a democratic path in Burma and for the protection of the safety, security and human rights of the citizens of that country,” said Sullivan.

Biden expressed grave concerns about the military coup and violence in Burma during the ASEAN meeting.

According to a White House readout, Biden called on the country’s military regime to immediately end the violence, release those unjustly detained, and restore Burma’s path to democracy.

The Indo-Pacific region remains an area of strategic interest for the Biden administration.

Vice President Kamala Harris made an August trip to southeast Asia, the administration announced a new trilateral defense agreement with Australia and the UK called AUKUS on Sept. 15, and Biden met with leadership from regional partners in the Quad on Sept. 24.

The leaders of China and Russia are also expected to join the summit’s virtual meetings.

Nick Ciolino

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Nick Ciolino covers the White House.

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