President Joe Biden arrives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Saturday morning local time for the annual summit between the US president and leaders of Southeast Asian nations.
The weekend of meetings in Cambodia comes ahead of the highly anticipated Group of 20 summit next week in Indonesia where Biden will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time in person since he took office. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings – along with Sunday’s East Asia Summit, which is also being held in Phnom Penh – will be a chance for the president to speak with US allies before sitting down with Xi.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier this week that Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen as he looks to build on a summit between Biden and ASEAN leaders in Washington earlier this year.
“(Biden) will underscore US support for the ASEAN-led regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific and discuss opportunities to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific that is more connected, more prosperous, more secure, and more resilient,” Sullivan said at a White House press briefing on Thursday, describing the president’s weekend in Cambodia.
Four defining global threats are looming over Biden’s trip: Russia’s war in Ukraine, escalating tensions with China, the existential problem of climate change and the potential for a global recession in the coming months. Other flashpoints, like North Korea’s rapidly accelerating provocations and uncertainty over Iran’s nuclear program, will also factor in.
While in Phnom Penh, Biden will be meeting with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Sunday following multiple weapons tests by North Korea, Sullivan said. The meeting is notable given the historic tensions between Japan and South Korea, and the relationship between the two staunch US allies has been one that Biden has attempted to bridge.
Both the Japanese and the South Koreans find themselves united in concern about Kim Jong Un’s missile tests, as well as the prospect of a seventh nuclear weapons test. North Korea has ramped up its tests this year, having carried out missile tests on 32 days in 2022, according to a CNN count. That’s compared to just eight in 2021 and four in 2020, with the latest launch coming on Wednesday.
Sullivan said Thursday that the administration is concerned about the North Koreans conducting a seventh nuclear test but can’t say if it will come during the weekend of meetings.
“Our concern still remains real. Whether it happens in the next week or not, I can’t say,” Sullivan said. “We are also concerned about further potential long-range missile tests in addition to the possibility of a nuclear test. And so, we’ll be watching carefully for both of those.”
But the Monday meeting with Xi in Bali, Indonesia, will undoubtedly hang over the summits in Cambodia.
Biden and Xi have spoken by phone five times since the president entered the White House. They traveled extensively together, both in China and the United States, when both were serving as their country’s vice president.
Both enter Monday’s meeting on the back of significant political events. Biden fared better than expected in US midterm elections and Xi was elevated to an unprecedented third term by the Chinese Communist Party.
US officials declined to speculate on how the two leaders’ political situations might affect the dynamic of their meeting. Instead, they laid out areas they expected to be on the table.
That includes the issue of Taiwan, which Beijing claims. Biden has vowed in the past to use US military force to defend the island from a Chinese invasion. The issue is among the most contentious between Biden and Xi.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Jessie Yeung, Yoonjung Seo,and Paula Hancocks contributed to this report.