Phnom Penh, Cambodia
President Joe Biden arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Saturday morning local time for a series of summits and meetings Between the President of the United States and the leaders of Southeast Asian countries.
The weekend of meetings in Cambodia comes ahead of next week’s highly anticipated Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, where Biden will meet personally with Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time since taking office. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings – along with Sunday’s East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh – will be an opportunity to talk to US allies before sitting down with President Xi Jinping.
Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen as he looks to build an ASEAN summit with Biden in Washington earlier this year.
Biden told reporters aboard Air Force One that his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has been “committed to increasing our cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” since the beginning of his presidency, and his attendance at the ASEAN and East Asia summits this weekend will highlight his work. so far, including the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and Security Partnership efforts announced earlier this year.
“He’s coming to these summits with his own accomplishments and goals, and he wants to use the next 36 hours to advance America’s engagement to build on that foundation, as well as lay out a number of concrete, practical initiatives,” Sullivan said.
Among these practical initiatives, Sullivan noted, are new initiatives on maritime cooperation, digital connectivity and economic investment. “Biden will launch a new maritime domain effort that will focus on the use of radio frequencies by commercial satellites to track dark cargo, illegal and unregulated fishing, and improve the capacity of countries in the region to respond to disasters and humanitarian crises,” Sullivan said.
Biden will also emphasize a “forward-looking stance” on regional defense, Sullivan added, to show that the U.S. is at the forefront of security cooperation.
There will also be a focus on Myanmar, where there will be discussions to coordinate how to “continue to impose spending and increase pressure” on the junta that seized power from the country’s democratically elected government in a coup in February 2021.
Four defining global threats loom during Biden’s visit: Russia’s war in Ukraine, escalating tensions with China, the existential challenge of climate change, and the potential for a global recession in the coming months. Other hot spots, such as North Korea’s rapidly escalating provocations and uncertainty over Iran’s nuclear program, will also play a role.
In Phnom Penh, Biden will meet with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Sunday after North Korea conducted multiple weapons tests, Sullivan said. The meeting is particularly noteworthy given the historic tensions between Japan and South Korea, and the relationship between the two staunch US allies that Biden has sought to bridge.
Both the Japanese and South Koreans are concerned about Kim Jong-un’s missile tests, as well as the possibility of a seventh nuclear test. North Korea has stepped up its tests this year and conducted 32 days of missile tests in 2022, according to a CNN report. That’s compared to eight in 2021 and four in 2020, the latest on Wednesday.
Sullivan suggested that the tripartite meeting would not lead to concrete results, but rather to strengthen cooperation in the field of security in the face of a number of threats.
The trio of world leaders, Sullivan told reporters, “could discuss broader security issues in the Indo-Pacific, as well as, in particular, threats posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.”
Sullivan said Thursday that the administration was concerned about North Korea’s seventh nuclear test, but he could not say whether the meetings would come over the weekend.
“Our concern remains real. “I can’t say whether that will be next week or not,” Sullivan said earlier this week. “We’re also concerned about further potential long-range missile tests in addition to the possibility of a nuclear test. So we’ll be watching both very closely.”
But Monday’s meeting between Xi and Indonesia in Bali will certainly be linked to the summits in Cambodia and will be part of the trilateral talks.
“President Biden is certainly anticipating what he wants to do with our closest allies, as well as asking the leaders of (South Korea) and Japan, ‘What would you like me to raise?’ What do you want me to get into?”” Sullivan said, adding that it will be a topic, but it won’t be the main event of the three-way meeting.
Biden and Xi have spoken by phone five times since the president entered the White House. While both were vice presidents of their respective countries, they traveled extensively together in China and the United States.
Both went into Monday’s meeting on the back of important political events. Biden performed better than expected in the US midterm elections and Xi was promoted to an unprecedented third term by the Chinese Communist Party.
American officials declined to speculate on how the political situation of the two leaders might affect the dynamics of their meeting.
Sullivan told reporters that the high-level bilateral meeting between Biden and Xi was aimed at “clearing up” each leader’s understanding of the other’s priorities.
This includes the issue of Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing. Biden has previously vowed to use US military power to defend the island from invasion. The issue is one of the most contentious between Biden and Xi.
Sullivan suggested that the meeting would focus on better understanding positions on a number of critical issues, but would not lead to any major breakthroughs or sharp turns in the relationship.
Instead, “it’s about leaders getting a better understanding and then instructing their teams to continue to address these issues,” Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One during Biden’s visit to Cambodia.
The meeting, to be held on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, was the result of “several weeks of intense” discussions between the two sides, Sullivan said, and Biden said the leaders and their teams.