The United States has announced new plans to expand maritime cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations when ASEAN leaders gather in Washington for a special summit seen as a show of solidarity with China.

ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are claiming parts of the South China Sea, a waterway almost entirely claimed by Beijing, which has dumped landfills and militarized islands over the past decade.

The administration of US President Joe Biden is allocating $ 60 million to new regional maritime initiatives, which include the transfer of ships to Southeast Asia to increase the ability of coastal states to comply with maritime law and combat illegal, unregistered and unregulated fishing.

“We need to intensify our game in Southeast Asia,” a senior official told reporters. “We need to work more closely with ASEAN.”

FILE – The runway, structures and buildings on the artificial reef Subi in China in the Spratly Islands chain in the South China Sea can be seen from a Philippine Air Force transport aircraft C-130 Air Force Philippines, April 21, 2017

At a meeting Friday with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the United States was working with the Southeast Asian bloc to “promote a shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

Marsudi said her country adheres to the principle of “respect for territorial sovereignty” and hopes that the strategic partnership between Indonesia and the United States can “contribute to peace, stability and prosperity” in the region.

A senior State Department spokesman told the Voice of America that the South China Sea issue was high on the agenda of the US-ASEAN special summit.

“The South China Sea is of great concern,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Chon Pak said in an interview this week. “We have seen more aggressive and coercive action by China against the candidate countries. And, you know, we continue to work with all our allies and partners in the region and beyond to make sure the South China Sea is free and open. ”

China means the People’s Republic of China.

Later on Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to hold a working lunch with ASEAN leaders to discuss maritime security and other areas. Harris condemned China’s “illegal claims” to the South China Sea during a speech in Singapore last August. She said China’s actions “undermine rule-based order and threaten countries’ sovereignty”.

The Biden administration is preparing to deploy a comprehensive Indo-Pacific economic mechanism, which will be the first major trade and economic initiative in the region since the Trump administration withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

The White House announced on Thursday new initiatives worth more than $ 150 million, which include investments in infrastructure, health security and education in ASEAN.

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