PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — President Joe Biden began a series of week-long meetings with foreign counterparts on Saturday, during which he will cast the US as a solid and trusted friend of Asian leaders discouraged by North Korea’s nuclear program and the influence of China in the region.
In brief remarks at the start of a conference of Southeast Asian countries, Biden made it clear that he also wants to use the summit to rally regional allies and pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war with Ukraine.
“Together, we will tackle the biggest issues of our time, from climate to health security, and defend ourselves against the significant threats to the rule-based order and to the threats to the rule of law,” Biden said at the Association of Southeast Asian summit. nations.
“We will also discuss Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine and our efforts to address the global impact of the war, including in Southeast Asia,” the president added.
After arriving in Cambodia, he had a face-to-face meeting with the country’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, and thanked him for the country’s decision to co-support United Nations resolutions in support of Ukraine. Biden told the prime minister he appreciated his “clear condemnation” of the Russian invasion.
On Sunday, Biden will meet with two valued allies, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol. They are expected to discuss the nuclear threat from North Korea, whose repeated missile tests have sent residents of both countries into air raid shelters for their safety.
Biden then flies to Bali, Indonesia, for a summit of the G-20, made up of 19 countries and the European Union, which together make up about 80 percent of the global economy. Russia is a member of the G-20, but Putin has chosen to skip the meeting.
The focal point of Biden’s journey is a sitting Monday in Bali with Chinese President Xi Jinping, their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office. As has been the case with previous presidents, Biden would like China to play a bigger role in curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Briefing reporters on Air Force One as the president flew to Cambodia from a climate conference in Egypt, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden will “tell President Xi his perspective, which is that North Korea poses a threat, not just to the United States.” States, not just for [South Korea] and Japan, but to peace and stability throughout the region.”
Sullivan added: “And if North Korea continues down this path, it simply means further strengthening the US military and security presence in the region. And thus [China] has an interest in playing a constructive role in curbing North Korea’s worst tendencies.”
Biden and Xi are both approaching the meeting from positions of relative strength. At a meeting of the ruling Communist Party last month, Xi won a historic third term for himself and installed party loyalists in positions of power.
As for Biden, with election officials still counting votes, it’s still unclear whether Republicans or Democrats will control Congress next year. However, his party has defied historical trends by averting the heavy losses incumbent presidents typically suffer during their first midterm election cycle.
Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said China has “two friends who act like absolute villains” between Russia and North Korea, adding that Beijing is “not doing well either.”
The fatigue that comes from flying halfway around the world can overtake Biden. In his comments to ASEAN, he apparently mistook the host country, Cambodia, for a South American nation with the same first letter and number of syllables.
He expressed his gratitude for Colombia’s leadership.
Peter Nicholas is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.
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