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It’s in America’s interest to court ASEAN

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Washington – Restoring relationships with friends and allies damaged by Donald Trump has been a foreign policy priority for U.S. President Joe Biden. He has been largely successful in doing so through the “Quad” and the Group of Seven frameworks aimed at meeting the challenges posed by China.

However there was one important group of countries that the White House seemed to overlook in the early months of his presidency — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In the first six months of his administration, Biden spoke with over 40 leaders of the world by phone, but he had not done so with a single ASEAN leader.

Fortunately, things have changed for the better recently, with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visiting Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand in June, followed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s travels to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines last month. Vice President Kamala Harris also traveled to Vietnam and Singapore for talks in August.

Finally, it seems, Washington is paying due attention to ASEAN, which was largely ignored by the Trump administration. In doing so, it would be wise to spend much more political capital on the region together with Japan, the largest investor in ASEAN countries.

There are several reasons why.

First, ASEAN is of tremendous strategic importance to the U.S. and Japan because of its geographical and economic characteristics. Geographically, the ASEAN countries are literally situated at the center of the Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, comprising Australia, India, Japan and the U.S., the four pillars of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision. Moreover, several key ASEAN states share borders with China both on land and at sea.

Economically, while the group’s 10 member countries are mostly small, ASEAN collectively has the fourth largest economy in the world, behind the U.S., China and Japan. Furthermore, economically, it has been growing faster than any other region except for the nation of China. The collective ASEAN economy is expected to continue to grow, reaching in the not-too-distant future a population of 700 million people who are eager to work........

© The Japan Times

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