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U.S. tells Southeast Asian leaders summit marks ‘new era’ for ties

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8/8

© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit at the U.S. Department of State, in Washington, U.S., May 13, 2022. REUTERS/Leah Millis

2/8

By Jeff Mason and Michael Martina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Friday a first summit in Washington with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) marked the launch of a “new era” in the relationship between the United States and the 10-nation bloc.

Addressing ASEAN leaders on the second day of a two-day meeting, Biden said “a great deal of history of our world in the next 50 years is going to be written in the ASEAN countries, and our relationship with you is the future, in the coming years and decades.”

The summit marked the first time ASEAN leaders gathered as a group in Washington and their first meeting hosted by a U.S. president since 2016.

Biden’s administration hopes the effort will show that the United States remains focused on the Indo-Pacific and the long-term challenge of China, which it views as its main competitor, despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We’re launching a new era – a new era – in U.S.-ASEAN relations,” Biden said, calling the U.S.-ASEAN partnership “critical.”

Earlier, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said the United States would remain in Southeast Asia for generations and stressed the need to maintain freedom of the seas, which the United States says is challenged by China.

“The United States and ASEAN have shared a vision for this region, and together we will guard against threats to international rules and norms,” Harris said.

Neither she nor Biden mentioned China by name. The United States has accused China of using coercion against its neighbors.

Harris said the United States would continue to respond with ASEAN to the threat of COVID-19, having already donated more than 115 million vaccine doses to the region. Harris also said the United States and ASEAN need to show collective ambition on the climate issue, accelerate the transition to clean energy, and meet infrastructure needs sustainably.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, though Myanmar’s leader was excluded from the summit over a coup last year and U.S. treaty ally the Philippines is in transition after an election and is represented by its foreign minister.

Biden hosted a dinner for the leaders at the White House on Thursday, and his administration promised $150 million for areas including infrastructure, security, pandemic preparedness and clean energy.

New U.S. commitments will include deployment of a U.S. Coast Guard vessel to the region to help counter what the United States and regional countries have described as China’s illegal fishing.

U.S. spending pales in comparison to that of China, which in November alone pledged $1.5 billion in development assistance for ASEAN over three years to fight COVID-19 and fuel economic recovery.

Biden on Friday announced the nomination of a new ambassador to ASEAN, Yohannes Abraham, currently chief of staff on his National Security Council, to fill a post vacant since the start of his predecessor Donald Trump’s administration in 2017. Biden also is working on more initiatives, including “Build Back Better World” infrastructure investment and an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). Neither is finalized.

Gregory Poling, a Southeast Asia expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said the summit was largely about symbolism but economics remained the missing component, with IPEF not expected to be launched until Biden visits Japan later in May.

“Everyone seems happy and the diplomatic message of commitment is landing. But … a modest, to put it kindly, $150 million isn’t going to impress anyone,” Poling said. “That leaves a lot riding on IPEF.”

Russia’s invasion was also on the agenda with ASEAN, with the United States hoping to persuade ASEAN countries to do more to push back against Moscow.

ASEAN countries share many U.S. concerns about China’s assertiveness, including its claim of sovereignty over vast swathes of the South China Sea where Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia have rival claims. They also remain cautious about siding more firmly with the United States, given their predominant economic ties with China and limited American economic incentives.

They have been frustrated by a U.S. delay in detailing plans for economic engagement since Trump quit a regional trade pact in 2017.

Biden first announced the intention to create IPEF at a virtual summit with ASEAN leaders in October.

Analysts and diplomats have said only two of the 10 ASEAN countries – Singapore and the Philippines – are expected to be among the initial group to sign up for negotiations under IPEF, which does not currently offer the expanded market access Asian nations want given Biden’s concern for American jobs.

World

Analysis-Australian women unleash new political force on climate, integrity

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3/3

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Voters line up outside a Marrickville suburb polling station to cast their ballots on the day of the national election in Sydney, Australia, May 21, 2022. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy/File Photo

2/3

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Professional women and voters concerned about climate change unleashed a third force in Australia’s election, taking a swath of seats that ended nine years of conservative rule even as votes for the winning Labor Party fell.

Women who left successful careers in business, medicine and media to enter politics as independents were on track to win five seats from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal party in its affluent urban heartland in Saturday’s general election, as moderate voters abandoned the government.

Independents or the minor Greens party looked set to win at least 15 of the 151 lower house seats, ABC election analysts said. Labor remained five seats short of the 76 seats it needs to form a government as counting continued on Sunday.

Personifying the disruptive change were centrists, mostly women, dubbed “teal” candidates because of teal-coloured marketing material used as they targeted seats held by Morrison’s conservative party.

“You seldom see this in Australian politics – a campaign that springs up and catches fire,” said Simon Jackman, a University of Sydney professor, referring to teal community campaigns run by women volunteers.

The election showed women’s anger at Morrison and at inaction on climate change, underpinned by “a fierce desire to get accountability back into Australian politics”, said Chris Wallace, a professor at the University of Canberra.

“There was a large overlap between women outraged by the government and voters overall who wanted action on climate policy,” she told Reuters. 

This “mobilised women in never before seen numbers – including the affluent, middle-class professional women who donned teal T-shirts and took several safe seats off the coalition,” Wallace said.

Independent Sophie Scamps, a doctor who won a Sydney seat held by the Liberals for 70 years, told Sky News, “There were so many people in Mackellar saying, ‘I have voted Liberal my entire life and they no longer represent me.'”

‘AUSTRALIA HAS MOVED ON’

Monique Ryan, a paediatric neurologist who defeated Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Melbourne, cited the gender pay gap and violence against women as key issues on Sunday.

Climate change struck the biggest chord with voters, said Jackman, who worked on polling data with Climate 200, a group funded by a former Liberal donor that gave money to around 20 independents.

Highly educated voters were also angry at the government on integrity issues, including the handling of gender and sexual assault claims in parliament that would not have been tolerated in most Australian workplaces, he said.

“Women were powerfully motivated,” Jackman said, while their male partners were also coming to believe “that the Liberals are the past. Australia has moved on, we’ve moved on on climate, we’ve moved on on gender equality.”

Former Liberal finance minister Simon Birmingham said the Morrison government should have embraced a more ambitious 2030 emission reduction target, and the election showed the Liberal Party needed to be more inclusive.

“Especially Australian women who are much more highly educated today,” he told ABC television. “It’s a cohort that we have clearly failed to have represented in sufficient numbers.”

Jackman said businesswoman Allegra Spender, who won the Liberal Sydney seat of Wentworth as an independent, should have been Liberal party royalty. Her father was a Liberal lawmaker for a decade and her grandfather negotiated Australia’s pillar ANZUS security treaty with the United States as foreign minister.

Instead, he said, Wentworth became a case study in how sophisticated moderate Liberal voters who understood climate science, and entrepreneurs who wanted to invest in greener technology had abandoned the party.

Greens appeared to have won two seats in the Queensland city of Brisbane that were badly hit by floods, and were leading in the flood-affected Brisbane electorate.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said Liberals and Labor both lost vote as a record number of people voted for the Greens. “This result is a mandate for action on climate and equality.”

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In Japan, Biden to launch economic plan for region sceptical on benefits

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3/3

© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks with Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Euisun Chung (not pictured) on the automaker’s decision to build a new electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility in Savannah, Georgia, as Biden ends his visit to Seoul

2/3

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Yoshifumi Takemoto

TOKYO (Reuters) – President Joe Biden headed to Japan on Sunday to launch a plan for greater U.S. economic engagement with the Indo-Pacific, facing criticism even before the programme is announced that it will offer scant benefit to countries in the region.

On the second leg of his first Asia trip as president, Biden is to meet with leaders of Japan, India and Australia, the “Quad,” another cornerstone of his strategy to push back against China’s expanding influence.

In Tokyo on Monday, Biden will call on Emperor Naruhito before talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He and Kishida are expected to discuss Japan’s plans to expand its military capabilities and reach in response to China’s growing might.

Tokyo will also see the launch on Monday of Biden’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a programme intended to bind regional countries more closely via common standards in areas including supply-chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital trade.

Washington has lacked an economic pillar to its Indo-Pacific engagement since former President Donald Trump quit a multinational trade agreement now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving the field open to China to expand its influence.

But the IPEF is unlikely to include binding commitments, and Asian countries and trade experts have given a decidedly lukewarm response to a programme limited by Biden’s reluctance to risk American jobs by offering the increased market access the region craves.

The White House had wanted it the IPEF announcement to represent a formal start of negotiations with a core group of like-minded countries, but Japan wanted to ensure broader participation to include as many Southeast Asian countries as possible, trade and diplomatic sources said.

Given this, Monday’s ceremony will likely signal an agreement to start discussions on IPEF rather than actual negotiations, the sources said.

“Japan wanted as many participants as possible … and also wanted the U.S. to conduct an inclusive process of dialogue after the launch,” a person familiar with the discussions said.

This source said the launch was expected to be attended in person by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Biden and Kishida, and by other leaders virtually.

LACK OF INCENTIVES

A Japanese Finance Ministry official said many Southeast Asian countries would not join IPEF because of the lack of practical incentives like tariff reductions.

“It’s not a cold decision but a practical one, probably because it doesn’t really have significant contents,” the official said.

However, an Asian diplomat said a least half the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could join the launch ceremony.

“It seems the White House has decided to make the IPEF launch more like a party with an open bar that all are invited to, with the real work to start on Monday morning,” said Matthew Goodman, a trade expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Eventually the administration is going to have to offer more tangible benefits if it wants to keep countries on board.”

On Tuesday in Tokyo, Biden will join the second in-person meeting of the Quad group of countries.

All share concerns about China, but the Quad as a group has avoided expressing an overtly anti-China agenda, largely due to Indian sensibilities.

India’s strong security ties with Russia and refusal to condemn its invasion of Ukraine will likely prevent any strong joint statement on that issue, analysts said.

However, at their last summit in March, Quad leaders agreed that what has happened to Ukraine should not be allowed to happen in the Indo-Pacific – a reference to the threat posed to self-governed Taiwan by China, though Beijing was not mentioned by name.

Chinese envoy for Korean affairs Liu Xiaoming said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) that Washington was “putting together a closed & exclusive ‘clique’.”

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Biden says ‘everybody’ should be concerned about monkeypox outbreak

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden pauses while speaking during a briefing from senior officials on efforts to prepare for and respond to future hurricanes, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., May 18, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

SEOUL (Reuters) – The monkeypox outbreak is something “everybody should be concerned about,” U.S. President Joe Biden said on Sunday, adding that U.S. health officials are looking into possible treatments and vaccines.

“We’re working on it hard to figure out what we do,” Biden told reporters at an air base in South Korea before departing on Air Force One for Japan.

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