The Latest on Southeast Asia: November 22, 2022

Southeast Asia became the center of global attention from November 10 to 19 as it played host to leaders from across the world, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. From November 10 to 13, Cambodia hosted the ASEAN and East Asia Summits in Phnom Penh. Then Indonesia hosted the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Bali from November 15 to 16, followed by Thailand hosting the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Bangkok on November 18 and 19. Biden attended the meetings in Cambodia and Indonesia while Harris represented the administration in Thailand before continuing on to the Philippines for high-level meetings. President Biden’s official Twitter account declared the summits “brought together the broadest possible coalition of partners to confront this moment of great global challenges.” They also provided opportunities for significant bilateral meetings, and for the United States to launch several ambitious initiatives to promote economic development and further climate cooperation in the region.

In Phnom Penh, the United States and ASEAN formally elevated their relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This is the highest-level diplomatic relationship that ASEAN holds with external partners and puts the United States on the same footing as China, Australia, and India. As part of the partnership, Biden launched a new U.S.-ASEAN Electric Vehicle Initiative, which will help Southeast Asian countries achieve their emissions reduction targets by developing the regional EV ecosystem and providing technical assistance to accelerate EV adoption. U.S. agencies also announced a bevy of new investments in Southeast Asia. These included $75 million from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to strengthen health supply chains, $13 million from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency for new infrastructure project preparation initiatives, and a $10 million annual investment from the Department of Defense to launch and support emerging defense leaders from Southeast Asia.

More climate initiatives were announced at the G20 Leaders’ Summit. Indonesian president Joko Widodo and the leaders of the International Partners Group, which is co-led by the United States and Japan, launched a Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) for Indonesia. This will mobilize $20 billion in public and private financing to accelerate Indonesia’s net-zero timeline. On the sidelines of the summit, the United States and Indonesia also concluded negotiations to launch a Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact worth $698 million to support the development of climate-friendly transportation infrastructure and increase access to finance for Indonesia’s women-owned businesses and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises. Additionally, ExxonMobil and Indonesia’s Pertamina signed a $2.5 billion agreement to assess the development of a regional carbon capture and sequestration hub in Indonesia, allowing further decarbonization of the country’s refining, chemicals, and steel sectors.

President Biden was notably absent from the APEC Leaders’ Summit, at the end of which the United States formally took over the chairmanship for 2023. But Vice President Harris traveled to Bangkok and announced a number of initiatives to demonstrate U.S. commitment to Thailand and the Mekong Region, including the launch of a clean energy partnership to explore the deployment of advanced nuclear reactor technologies in Thailand. The vice president then traveled to the Philippines and launched initiatives to advance cooperation on renewables and nuclear energy, strengthen critical mineral supply chains, bolster food security, and expand access to 5G networks. She also visited Palawan on November 22, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to ever visit the island, which is home to the Philippine military and coast guard commands in charge of defending Philippine rights in the South China Sea. That same day, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Cambodia to attend the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus in-person for the first time, capping off a robust year of U.S.-ASEAN engagements.

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