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Summit slight highlights nature of US' commitment to ASEAN: China Daily editorial | Updated: 2022-05-15 20:06
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The US-ASEAN Special Summit is held at Washington on May 12-13. [Photo/Agencies]

Instead of manifesting the United States' "long-term commitment" to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as claimed, the US-ASEAN Special Summit proved to be an opportunity for the host to slight the guests.

Held on Thursday and Friday, this was the first time the leaders of ASEAN member states were invited as collective guests of the US. Yet except for being present at a welcome dinner, US President Joe Biden spared just two hours for a group meeting with the leaders, with no bilateral meetings arranged, which is rare in diplomatic protocol.

Instead, the ASEAN leaders, excluding those of Myanmar and the Philippines who were not in attendance, sat at a long table staring across an ocean of empty space at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, sitting opposite them by herself at a similar table on the other side of the room. In the photos it appeared like she was lecturing them.

Nonetheless, the ASEAN leaders didn't leave the US without a parting gift. Biden wrote a $150 million check to the 10-member bloc as a show of the US' commitment, among which $60 million is earmarked to be spent on maritime security.

US Deputy Secretary of States Wendy Sherman claimed after the curtain closed on the summit that "ASEAN centrality is at the heart of the Biden-Harris Administration's Indo-Pacific Strategy", which can only be described as doublespeak since the two things are as different as chalk and cheese. The former is the bloc's insistence on its autonomy and the latter a scheme of the US tailored to contain China.

The plight Europe faces after putting its autonomy in hock to the US' strategy to debilitate Russia should offer the ASEAN leaders some food for thought about what might be in store if they succumb to Washington's entreaties and enticements.

They should be well aware that the US has never treated the bloc, a forgotten corner of the world as some strategists in Washington put it, on an equal footing, and it is the US' bid to check China's rise that has made them guests in Washington.

That few ASEAN leaders, including the leader of Singapore, a US ally, opt to use the politicized term "Indo-Pacific" that the US has conjured up, shows their somber-minded awareness that the US is gambling with peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific for its own interests.

Those of them, if any, who had pinned hopes on the so-called Indo-Pacific Economic Framework the Biden administration unveiled late last year, should know after the summit that it is anything but a pro-unity and pro-development initiative, rather it is just another seed of discord Washington is seeking to sow and grow in the region.

That Biden is scheduled to visit the Republic of Korea and Japan from Friday to Tuesday and attend a Quad summit in Tokyo, should further remind the ASEAN leaders that the region could easily undo its development achievements over the past decades if they choose to be players in Washington's game.

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