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VP Harris arrives in Jakarta for ASEAN summit to strengthen ties

Vice President Kamala Harris has landed in Jakarta to convene with
leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a summit hosted by Indonesia, the outgoing chair of the 10-nation group, which includes Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.


ASEAN, established on August 8, 1967, holds two semi-annual summits. This 43rd ASEAN summit, commencing on September 4, marks the final summit of the year. Time reports that this summit will primarily focus on three critical issues: Myanmar’s ongoing civil conflict, recent tensions in the disputed South China Sea, and the enduring rivalry between the United States and China.


According to Reuters, China released a map on August 28 outlining its famous U-shaped territorial claim, encompassing approximately 90% of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam have all rejected China’s map, which asserts sovereignty over the South China Sea. Beijing has argued that the map should be interpreted rationally and objectively.

During her meetings with ASEAN leaders, Harris is anticipated to address what the
administration labels as Beijing’s “baseless maritime claims.”


“She will not shy away from discussing our responsibilities as a Pacific power. Five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Indo-Pacific region, and the vice president will undoubtedly emphasize that the United States takes these responsibilities seriously,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stated to VOA last Friday,


Nevertheless, the decision for President Joe Biden to attend the G20 summit in the
same region without participating in the ASEAN summit has sparked controversy.


Observers have criticized this move, viewing it as a missed opportunity to strengthen diplomatic relations with Indonesia, ASEAN’s largest economy. The archipelago has been perceived as gravitating towards China’s sphere of influence, given President Joko Widodo’s emphasis on “economic diplomacy” as a primary foreign policy objective.


Diplomatic sources, speaking anonymously to VOA to discuss internal deliberations, revealed that Jakarta was disappointed with Biden’s choice, especially since it had synchronized ASEAN’s meeting schedule with the U.S. president’s G20 summit visit to New Delhi, India, with hopes of securing his presence.

“Diplomatically Biden’s absence will constitute a humiliation for [Indonesian] President [Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo],” Kornelius Purba, senior editor of the Jakarta Post, wrote ahead of the summit, according to the Foreign Policy. “[T]he U.S. President’s no-show in Jakarta only signals that Indonesia is no longer a top priority of the U.S. administration, which may perceive Jakarta as leaning too much to Washington’s chief competitor Beijing.”


Following the G20, Biden is set to travel to Hanoi, aiming to elevate U.S.-Vietnam
relations from a “comprehensive partnership” to a “comprehensive strategic
partnership.”


Harris is scheduled to leave Jakarta on Thursday and return to Washington on Friday, coinciding with Biden’s trip to New Delhi.

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