Cambodia announces postponement of special US-ASEAN summit – The Diplomat


Beat ASEAN | Diplomacy | South East Asia

The March 28-29 meeting was delayed due to scheduling conflicts with some Southeast Asian governments.

The planned special summit between US President Joe Biden and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has reportedly been postponed, after leaders of one or more Southeast Asian governments East said they could not attend.

News of the delay was originally reported in a brief article in the Cambodian government-aligned Fresh News outlet that quoted Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn. (Cambodia is ASEAN’s president this year.) Sokhonn later confirmed this to Reutersclaiming that the meeting had “been postponed to a later date as some ASEAN leaders cannot attend the meeting on the proposed dates”.

Indonesia, which is coordinating the summit, did not immediately confirm the postponement, according to Reuters, but an Indonesian official said earlier that options for the timing were still being discussed.

The White House previously announced the special meeting would be held in Washington on March 28-29, describing it as an important step in the Biden administration’s attempts to engage Southeast Asia, a region that straddles the ‘Indo-Pacific and which US policymakers see as essential to countering China’s growing influence in Asia. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki described it as a “top priority for the Biden-Harris administration to serve as a strong and reliable partner and to build a strengthened and unified ASEAN to meet the challenges of our time. “.

But the past few days have seen a series of vague reports of a possible delay. In a speech this week, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested the meeting be postponed after a number of ASEAN member states called for it to be held two days earlier.

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Then, in an article on Tuesday, Bangkok Post columnist Kavi Chongkittavorn claims that the timing of the event had been the subject of friction between the two parties. “After several schedule changes,” he wrote, “ASEAN leaders have become exasperated with the proposed meeting with Mr. ASEAN leaders will not be able to attend.

He claimed Muslim-majority member states – Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – were to attend Ramadan celebrations, while Thailand had insisted the meeting be held on March 26-27 so that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o -cha attending a meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation at this time.

However, a Washington-based source told this observer yesterday that seven nations had confirmed their attendance, one was due to do so imminently and only one country – Thailand – had said it could not attend. event on March 28 and 29. (The tenth member is Myanmar, whose military junta was excluded from the event in accordance with ASEAN’s permanent policy of allowing only “non-political” representatives of the country to attend.)

The misalignment and miscommunication that surrounded the organization of the summit is unlikely to have a long-term impact on US-ASEAN relations. But it perpetuates the slightly cursed nature of recent US attempts to engage ASEAN leaders. President Donald Trump originally pledged to hold a special US-ASEAN summit in Las Vegas in March 2020, but that was swept away by the COVID-19 pandemic. Then last May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was forced to cancel a scheduled call with ASEAN foreign ministers after its in-flight communications network malfunctioned.

The special summit will probably be rescheduled in due course and in the long run this setback will be forgotten. But it is all the same a little surprising that the communication between ASEAN and Washington was not more coherent, and that the two parties did not set a date before announcing the summit.

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