US President Joe Biden plans to provide Southeast Asia with more than $100 million in funding to fight the pandemic and tackle the climate crisis as his administration seeks to bolster ties with a region seeking to balance its growing economic reliance on China.
Biden is set to attend a virtual meeting with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Tuesday. In recent months, his administration has sought to restore relationships in the region after predecessor Donald Trump skipped Asean summits in each of the last three years of his presidency.
At the meeting, Biden will unveil a plan to provide $40 million to strengthen health system capacity and speed up research as part of the battle against COVID-19 in a region that has just begun to recover from a wave of deadly cases.
He’ll also pledge $20.5 million for tackling the climate crisis through a smart cities business innovation fund and the deployment of clean transport technologies, according to a White House statement. Another $20 million in new loans and funds will be channeled toward an array of initiatives that include supporting the digital economy and technology investments.
As part of Biden’s diplomatic push, the U.S. has donated more than 40 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the region and sent top diplomats including Vice President Kamala Harris to Singapore and Vietnam.
The U.S. re-engagement comes as the 10-nation Asean grapples with China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea. The pledges to be announced Tuesday reflect the administration’s “deep commitment to Asean’s central role in the U.S. vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the White House said.
The Biden administration has also played a key role in leading condemnation against Myanmar’s military junta since it overthrew the civilian government in a coup earlier this year. Myanmar is likely to feature in discussions between Asean and the U.S. after its military-backed government skipped the virtual summit along with a range of other meetings this week to protest the exclusion of its leader.