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U.S. tightwad with $150M ASEAN package

Compared with a $40 billion package for Ukraine, the White House initiative was paltry when also ranged against the billions pumped in by China into the region.

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WASHINGTON (AFP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday welcomed Southeast Asian leaders to Washington with promises to support clean energy and maritime security, hoping to showcase a United States (US) commitment as China makes wide inroads.

Top leaders from eight of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) flew to Washington for the two-day summit, which opened with a closed-door White House dinner of thyme poached chicken and vanilla ice cream.

The Biden administration, which took office describing China as the top international challenger, is eager to prove it is still prioritizing Asia despite months of intense focus on repelling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The White House announced some $150 million in new initiatives — a modest sum compared with a $40 billion package for Ukraine and with the billions pumped into the region by China, which has also flexed its muscle in the dispute-rife South China Sea.

But the US said it was working with its private sector and it plans to unveil a broader package, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, when Biden travels next week to Tokyo and Seoul.

Leaders who are participating include Cambodia’s veteran strongman Hun Sen, who is ASEAN’s current chair, and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the former army chief who led a 2014 coup.

The Philippines was represented by its foreign minister after holding elections on Monday.

In the biggest chunk of the new funding, the White House said it was committing $60 million to new maritime initiatives that will include the deployment of a Coast Guard cutter and personnel to fight crime including illegal fishing.

The White House said it was also devoting $40 million to invest in clean energy in the climate change-vulnerable region and was working with the private sector to raise up to $2 billion.

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