- Southeast Asian leaders have gathered in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta for their final summit this year to discuss a litany of divisive issues including Myanmar’s civil conflict, violent disputes in the South China Sea, and the tense US-China rivalry.1
- The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting, which started on Tuesday under tight security, will be followed by wide-ranging talks with Asian and Western counterparts on Wednesday and Thursday.2
- President Joe Biden, as well as China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin, will be absent. Vice President Kamala Harris, Premier Li Qiang, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represent the three powers, respectively.3
- Myanmar, which has been mired in civil strife after a military junta took over in 2021, will be a key issue. On Monday, Malaysia called for strong measures against Myanmar's ruling generals who allegedly blocked ASEAN's "five-point consensus" peace plan.4
- While Myanmar's generals have been suspended from top meetings, the country has been a divisive topic in the organization as Thailand’s outgoing military-led government has embraced the regime with support from Beijing.5
- Additionally, South China Sea disputes between ASEAN countries and China are among the top agenda items of the summit despite the bloc's deepening ties with Beijing — especially as a new Chinese territorial map has been revealed recently, including the controversial "nine-dash-line" claim over most of the disputed waters.6
- Narrative A, as provided by South China Morning Post. Joe Biden’s absence from the ASEAN summit came down to priorities, and the US president decided that attending the G20 meeting in India was more important than addressing the ASEAN leaders. Moreover, the US is still sending Vice President Harris to the meetings, which is hardly a snub of the bloc. Ultimately, it's hard to be in two places at once and Biden had to choose which foreign summit to attend.
- Narrative B, as provided by The Washington Post. Skipping the ASEAN gathering in Jakarta is a shortsighted mistake that contradicts the Biden administration's alleged willingness to build a stronger relationship with Asia as a whole to counter China. It's certain that some countries are more important to the US than others, but snubbing Indonesia, a vibrant democracy and a major regional power, suggests that the US wants simply a marriage of convenience.
- Pro-China narrative, as provided by Global Times. Biden’s absence from the ASEAN summit is far more calculated and nefarious than it seems on the surface. His administration is solely concerned about the region when it comes to its geopolitical tensions with China as it looks to turn ASEAN countries against Asia’s largest economy. The fact is, ASEAN countries haven’t bent their knee to the US, so Biden is sending a message by skipping their summit.