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ASEAN-US: Biden’s No-Show on Trade Deals Risks Isolating Friends in Asia

- US-Asean summit in Washington to highlight rift on trade deals

- Indo-Pacific framework seen lacking on details, ambition

Southeast Asian nations are increasingly disappointed with the US over a lack of progress on trade issues, undermining President Joe Biden’s efforts to strengthen ties with the region’s leaders at a summit this week in Washington.

The administration has repeatedly highlighted the importance of US leadership in Asia and building relationships to counter China. But when it comes to substance, specifically free-trade deals, the US has little to show.

The main US initiative now, known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, is supposed to deal with regional supply chains, infrastructure and other areas. But details are hazy and the administration has stressed it won’t include lower tariffs or better access to US markets.

Instead, the main US priority in Asia has been bolstering defense ties as part of a broader effort to counter China.

Indeed, there is little desire from Southeast Asian nations for increased tensions between the two countries. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called for a truce between the US and China and more focus on trade, while newly elected Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has argued that his country will not align with superpowers and will instead have its own foreign policy.

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