11 July 2024

Last week, US President Joe Biden sent a letter to ASEAN leaders assuring them that the proposed special US-ASEAN summit is still on the agenda, according to a highly placed source.

His signed one-page letter made it clear that, despite the summit’s postponement, the US is still committed to further strengthening its relationship and cooperation with ASEAN. After nearly six years, Washington, however, is yet to appoint a new envoy to the Jakarta-based ASEAN Secretariat.

During the ASEAN summit in October, Biden invited the ASEAN leaders to Washington for a special summit, which was scheduled to be held in January. It has now been postponed and no new date has been set, raising fears that this special summit might not take place, due to the mounting domestic challenges facing the Biden administration.

A special US-ASEAN summit was planned in March 2020 in Las Vegas, during the Trump Administration, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said that the ASEAN leaders welcomed the invitation. There could be an obstacle, however, due to the crisis in Myanmar, making it impossible to have all the ASEAN leaders in the US capital. When former President Barrack Obama held the Sunnylands special summit with the ASEAN leaders in February 2016, he invited them all to attend.

This year is a busy year for three ASEAN members, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, which are to host ASEAN-related summits, the G-20 summit and the Asia Pacific Leaders’ Meeting respectively. The White House has not yet confirmed Biden’s attendance.

Indonesia, which is the coordinator of ASEAN-US relations, is confident that Biden will attend the G-20 summit, which will be held at the end of October.

Each year, the ASEAN chair has to make numerous preparations to invite important global leaders to the group’s related summits. The US has one of the most disappointing records, with several absences. Trump only attended the ASEAN summit once, in 2017 in the Philippines, but left half-way through.

By Thai PBS World’s ASEAN Desk