US seeks ASEAN participation in initiative to counter Chinese influence

The United States is expected to urge members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to join an initiative setting out common trade rules during the two-day US-ASEAN Special Summit at the White House that ends Friday.

The US-led initiative, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, is apparently aimed at countering the influence of China, which is the largest trade partner for ASEAN members.

But the IPEF does not target cutting tariff rates, nor does it outline specific benefits, while ASEAN members have enjoyed advantages from signing free trade agreements with other countries.

According to the Japan External Trade Organization, or JETRO, China constituted 19 percent of ASEAN’s total trade in 2020. For some countries such as Laos, trade with China makes up about 30 percent of total trade.

Observers say that means ASEAN members are likely to be cautious on IPEF membership as Washington and Beijing both attempt to strengthen their influence over the region.

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