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Biden Welcomes Southeast Asian Leaders to Washington

The gathering underscores the United States’ attempts to keep one eye on Asia even as it focuses on Ukraine.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during the annual U.S.-ASEAN Summit via a video link in Washington on Oct. 26, 2021. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit, Finland’s NATO decision, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Biden Hosts ASEAN Leaders in Washington

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit, Finland’s NATO decision, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Biden Hosts ASEAN Leaders in Washington

U.S. President Joe Biden welcomes leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) today at the White House for a two-day summit, as the Biden administration seeks to keep an eye on Asia while it supports Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Despite strong Russia ties among many in the bloc, the two-day summit is expected to include a heavy focus on the war in Ukraine, as the White House seeks to encourage the Southeast Asian nations to join the international sanctions program or at least take a stronger rhetorical stance against Russia.

As discussed in yesterday’s brief, one of ASEAN’s 10 members, Myanmar, will not take part, as the group and the wider international community dither on how to prod the countrys military government back toward democracy following its Feb. 2021 coup.

Outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will also be absent, in part because of the recent election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as well as his stated desire to avoid the United States “as a matter of principle.” The country will be represented by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. at the summit.

ASEAN leaders have a packed schedule today, beginning on Capitol Hill with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi followed by meetings with U.S. business leaders and trade officials before attending a dinner with Biden.

The next day, the leaders will spend time with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss maritime cooperation and pandemic recovery before being joined by more Biden administration cabinet members to talk about climate change issues. Their day ends at the White House with Biden for a two-hour meeting.

A senior Biden administration official, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said Biden would not single out any one leader for bilateral meetings but would have “a quick, private time” with each of them.

Unlike other multination summits the White House has held in recent months, the U.S.-ASEAN Summit cannot be called a celebration of democracy. The group has grown into something of a dictator’s club, where one-party states outnumber democracies.

But as the United States continues its attempt to realign policy toward the Asia-Pacific region, Washington appears to view methods of governance as less important than a desire to deepen ties and stave off Chinese dominance in the region.

The United States still has plenty of catching up to do when it comes to trade with the 10-nation bloc. Total trade reached $362 billion in 2020, roughly half of China’s trade total with the bloc.

As the White House struggles to define its trade goals for the region, the United States risks slipping further behind China as Beijing inks new deals with its neighbors.

In his latest analysis, FP’s Michael Hirsh asked whether, “the United States, under Biden’s neo-protectionist agenda, is hurting itself by retreating from globalization—and thus, economic efficiency—faster than other major economies.”


What We’re Following Today

Finlands NATO choice. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced their intentions to join NATO today, saying the application process should occur “without delay” and expressing their hope it would happen in the “next few days.” When asked if Russia would view the move as a provocation, Niinisto said: “My response would be that you caused this—look at the mirror.”

With Finland’s decision made—and its application to soon follow—the focus turns to Sweden, where the ruling Social Democratic Party remains divided on whether to join the alliance. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson formally offered a written U.K. security guarantee to both countries to protect them if necessary during the uncertain months between applying to join NATO and formally becoming a member covered by the alliances Article 5 mutual defense commitment.

The Global COVID-19 Summit. On top of his ASEAN duties, U.S. President Joe Biden co-hosts a virtual Global COVID-19 Summit alongside the leaders of Belize, Germany, Indonesia, and Senegal. The summit will focus on global vaccine and therapeutics distribution as well as preparations for future pandemics.


Keep an Eye On

Northern Ireland protocol on the rocks. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected to speak today with EU representative Maros Sefcovic days after she announced she would “not shy away” from making unilateral changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol under the EU-U.K. Brexit agreement, a move that risks a trade war.

It remains to be seen whether Truss’s plans are meant as a negotiating tactic and whether she would have the required parliamentary support.

Outrage grows over journalist killing. The United Nations has called for an independent investigation into the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead while reporting on an Israeli military operation in the West Bank. Her employer, Al Jazeera, accused Israeli forces of firing on her and other journalists, and eyewitnesses told CNN that the journalists were not near Palestinian militants when Abu Akleh and others were shot. Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff said that due to the crossfire between both Israelis and Palestinians, “at this stage it is not possible to determine from which shot she was hit.”

Al Jazeera has led international condemnation of the killing, calling it a “blatant murder, violating international laws and norms.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the killing “horrifying” and joined calls for an investigation.


Odds and Ends

The Thai government will distribute 1 million cannabis plants to homes across the country, Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul announced on Sunday—a decision that follows moves to remove the drug from a list of controlled substances this year.

The government is hoping that spreading the plant to more homes will spur entrepreneurship in the legal cannabis market, now valued at $13.2 billion globally, while also attracting tourists.

Correction, May 12, 2022: This article has been updated to clarify that the full circumstances of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death are disputed and pending investigation.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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