ASEAN courts Biden as China speeds ‘vaccine diplomacy’

ASEAN courts Biden as China speeds ‘vaccine diplomacy’

10-member bloc seeks diplomatic balance after Trump’s neglect of region

SINGAPORE — After U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration, hopes in Southeast Asia for better diplomatic relations with Washington have risen, especially against the backdrop of China’s aggressive ‘vaccine diplomacy’ meant to win the region’s hearts and minds.

In a statement released on Thursday by Brunei, this year’s chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, foreign ministers in the region noted: “We look forward to working with the new administration to further strengthen the strategic partnership between ASEAN and the U.S. for the region’s peace, security, stability and prosperity.”

ASEAN ministers held an online meeting on the same day, the first major gathering of the 10-member bloc this year.

The bloc has been conducting equidistant diplomacy with the U.S. and China. It has high expectations for U.S. engagement in the region after former President Donald Trump had mostly disregarded the bloc. Trump even skipped the East Asia Summit — a key annual meeting of 18 Asia Pacific nations hosted by ASEAN — for four consecutive years.