US tells Asean leaders it will be in region for 'generations'

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WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States told Southeast Asian leaders on Friday (May 13) it would remain in the region for generations and stressed the need to maintain freedom of the seas, which Washington says is challenged by China.

Addressing a summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Vice-President Kamala Harris said the region was a US priority. The opening session of their meeting at the State Department on Friday would focus on maritime security and health issues, she said.

"The United States and Asean have shared a vision for this region, and together we will guard against threats to international rules and norms," she said.

She did not mention China, which Washington accuses of using coercion against its neighbours, by name.

"We stand with our allies and partners in defending the maritime rules-based order, which includes freedom of navigation and international law," she said.

"As an Indo-Pacific nation, the United States will be present and continue to be engaged in Southeast Asia for generations to come," Harris added.

Harris said the US would continue to respond with Asean to the threat of Covid-19, having already donated more than 115 million vaccines to the region.

"As long as Covid is present in any one country, it affects us all," she said.

Harris said the conversation has been "very robust and constructive" as she opened a subsequent session on climate and clean energy.

"Together we must raise our collective ambition, accelerate the transition to clean every and meet our infrastructure needs in a sustainable matter," she said.

President Joe Biden started the summit, bringing together Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, by hosting a dinner for the leaders at the White House on Thursday.

Myanmar's leader was excluded over a coup last year and the US treaty ally the Philippines is in transition after an election, though Biden spoke to the country's president-elect, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, on Wednesday. The country was represented by its foreign affairs secretary.

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