BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Southeast Asian nations are looking forward to work with the Joe Biden administration in stepping up ASEAN-US engagement, raising expectations of closer ties after former president Donald Trump’s neglect of the region.

In a statement released by Brunei as ASEAN chair on Thursday, the regional grouping said it will work with the US to strengthen multilateralism and international cooperation towards COVID-pandemic recovery.

“In view of the recent inauguration of US president Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris, we look forward to working with the new administration to further strengthen the strategic partnership between ASEAN and the US for the region’s peace, security, stability and prosperity,” it added.

The statement was issued after ASEAN foreign ministers concluded their talks via teleconference on Thursday.

Asked whether a Biden administration signals a renewed US interest in engaging with ASEAN, Brunei’s second foreign affairs minister YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Erywan PDPJ Hj Md Yusof said the regional bloc is always seeking to boost cooperation with the US regardless of who is at the helm.

“We’ve always said that irrespective of who is in administration, we would like to always strengthen our cooperation with the US because they are a strategic partner. As such, we welcome further enhancement of [our] cooperation,” he said during a press conference.

ASEAN further stated that it was also looking forward to welcome Biden and his administration in the next high-level meeting.

Biden and Harris were sworn in as the 46th US president and 49th vice president, respectively, early Thursday morning (Brunei time).

Amid China’s rise, many believed that American influence had waned in the region under Trump.

A survey by Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies found that there was declining confidence in ASEAN-US engagement among policymakers, entrepreneurs and journalists from ASEAN member states.

Trump had skipped the summits between ASEAN and the US for three consecutive years. His absence at the meetings was seen as a snub of Southeast Asian leaders.

Earlier in 2013 when Brunei was ASEAN chair, former US president Barack Obama was forced to cancel his much-anticipated trip to the sultanate due to a government shutdown back home.

Bill Clinton was the first and last US president to visit Brunei when he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in 2000.