No mention of Russia in US-Asean statement

No mention of Russia in US-Asean statement

Washington satisfied that Asean leaders agreed on 'respect for sovereignty' even if Ukraine wasn't mentioned

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha of Thailand listens to a translation of remarks during a meeting between Asean leaders and US business representatives as part of the Asean-US summit in Washington. (Reuters Photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha of Thailand listens to a translation of remarks during a meeting between Asean leaders and US business representatives as part of the Asean-US summit in Washington. (Reuters Photo)

WASHINGTON: The summit between Southeast Asian leaders and US President Joe Biden concluded at the White House with a joint statement that omitted any condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The statement called for the “immediate cessation of hostilities” in Ukraine. The countries said they “reaffirm our respect for sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity”.

But the statement did not use the words “Russia”, “war” or “invasion”. The Kremlin refuses to describe its invasion of Ukraine as a war, instead calling it a “special military operation”.

Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed, according to estimates by Ukrainian, US and European officials, and Ukrainian cities have suffered widespread destruction from airstrikes as well as artillery and missile barrages.

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Biden has sought to rally US allies in support of Ukraine’s defence, and has had success in Europe, where most NATO countries have supplied weaponry and other material to Kyiv’s forces.

But Asean’s membership includes countries that are more wary of directly criticising Russia. Indonesia, which will host the Group of 20 summit later this year, has refused to exclude Vladimir Putin from the gathering and is instead extending invitations to both the Russian leader and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Much of the summit was conducted behind closed doors, so it wasn’t clear to what extent the Ukraine portion of the joint statement was debated. 

Biden aides did not expect the Southeast Asian nations to weigh in on Russia’s attack on a European nation — and the US considered it a step forward that they called for a peaceful resolution and stressed Ukraine’s territorial integrity, a senior administration official said.

Leaders from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam arrived on Thursday at the White House for the summit, the second of its kind following a 2016 event held in California by former president Barack Obama. 

US officials believe that holding the meeting — and announcing new investments — can help combat China’s growing influence in the region.

Earlier Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said “Ukraine will absolutely be on the agenda” of the summit, but declined to say whether the word “Russia” would appear in the joint statement.

“A number of the Asean participants have been important partners in calling out the aggressive action of Russia and invading Ukraine, in participating and in supporting sanctions and, certainly, abiding by them,” she said.


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