The United States on Thursday pledged over $150 million 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.
The gathering is intended to demonstrate the commitment the United States has to the Indo-Pacific, where China has been increasing its clout and making extensive claims in regional waters.
The announcement on the new initiatives, which follows a commitment made in October of up to $102 million in investment in U.S.-ASEAN relations by 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 U.S capital. The 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 U.S. Coast Guard personnel to the Indo-Pacific to support maritime training.
The U.S. 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 U.S. government.
The United States will also invest $40 million in connection with clean energy infrastructure projects and spend $6 million for the advancement of digital economy rule-making and to 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 United States' 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 Wednesday the United States wants to convey the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns over China's approach to Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island that Beijing views as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.
"We believe it's critical for other countries to both publicly and privately underscore that what has taken place in Ukraine must never happen in Asia," he said at a think-tank event to preview the summit.
ASEAN members have not been fully united in taking a tough stance on Russia over the war it started in late February.
Cambodia, which chairs the forum this year, and seven other members were among the 141 countries that voted for a U.S.-led U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Vietnam, which has maintained friendly ties with Russia since its Soviet Union days, and Laos were among the 35 abstentions.
China is the largest trade partner for ASEAN. But China's assertive behavior has also created friction, with Beijing having conflicting territorial claims with four of the bloc's members -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- as well as Taiwan in the South China Sea, a key waterway for global trade.
ASEAN represents the world's fourth largest market and the United States is ASEAN's largest source of foreign direct investment. Their two-way trade amounted to over $360 billion in 2020, according to the U.S. government.