US offers B5.2bn to Asean

US offers B5.2bn to Asean

Maritime support tops summit agenda

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha meets with US President Joe Biden at the White House. (Government House photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha meets with US President Joe Biden at the White House. (Government House photo)

The United States has pledged over US$150 million (5.22 billion baht) in investment to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for maritime cooperation, infrastructure and other initiatives as it kicked off a two-day summit with the 10-member group in Washington,DC on Thursday (US local time).

The gathering is intended to demonstrate the commitment the US has to the Indo-Pacific, where China has been increasing its clout and making extensive claims in regional waters.

The announcement about the new initiatives, which follows a commitment made in October of up to $102 million in investment in US-Asean relations by US President Joe Biden, will inaugurate "a new era of partnership", the White House said.

It is the first time the United States has hosted the leaders of Asean in the US capital. The bloc's 10 members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The new initiatives earmarked $60 million to expand maritime cooperation, which will entail helping Asean countries counter illegal fishing and deploying US Coast Guard personnel to the Indo-Pacific to support maritime training.

The US Coast Guard will also deploy a cutter to Southeast Asia and Oceania for training and security cooperation, while stepping up efforts to support maritime law enforcement agencies in Southeast Asia by placing a training team in the region for the first time, according to the US government.

The US will also invest $40 million to support clean energy infrastructure projects and spend $6 million to advance digital economy rule-making and support the adoption of global standards in artificial intelligence.

During the summit and other meetings held on its sidelines, the Biden administration is expected to pitch to the fast-growing region its proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework -- a still vague regional engagement initiative that is expected to reconcile to some extent the US's absence from major free-trade agreements in the region.

Meanwhile, the impact of the Ukraine war on the Indo-pacific region was also to be discussed, with White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell saying on Wednesday (US local time) the United States wants to convey the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

Asean represents the world's fourth-largest market and the US is the bloc's largest source of foreign direct investment. Their two-way trade amounted to over $360 billion in 2020, according to the US government.

America is not the only country with a huge investment in the region. In November, China provided $1.5 billion to countries in Asean over three years to help them fight Covid-19 and fuel their economic recovery.

Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also met for talks with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin.

Gen Prayut stressed the importance of close bilateral relations and thanked the US government for offering help to Thailand during the pandemic, the spokesman said, adding Mr Austin praised Gen Prayut for his role in leading efforts to combat the virus.

The two sides also discussed developing and strengthening their military capabilities, joint military drills, cooperation in the defence industry and efforts to tackle illegal fishing and human trafficking.

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