As of this August, the United States has sent more than 16 million COVID-19 vaccines to the Southeast Asia region. These vaccines are part of the pledge by the Biden Administration to send 80 million vaccines around the world. As part of its vaccine diplomacy initiative, the United States has partnered with and is one of the largest contributors to the COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access) program.
Over 2 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were shipped to the Philippines in June, with the doses shared between the cities of Manila, Cebu, and Davao. US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law commented, “The United States is committed to leading the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And we will continue to support the Philippines’ vaccination and COVID-19 mitigation efforts as its reliable friend, partner, and ally.” Malaysia also received 1 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines last month.
As Vietnam experienced its worst outbreak of the pandemic, the United States sent a total of 5 million Moderna vaccines to the embattled country. The United States also shipped 4 million Moderna vaccines to Indonesia last month. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, in a call with the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, proclaimed the shipment “underscored the United States’ support for the people of Indonesia as they fight a surge in COVID-19 cases.”
Laos received 1.5 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which will help vaccinate 14% of the Lao PDR population. This week, the United States sent 1 million J&J vaccines to Cambodia and 1.5 million Pfizer vaccines to Thailand. Asides vaccine shipments, the United States has provided over $87 million in government assistance to ASEAN member states to help fight the pandemic.
Southeast Asia is a critical region for the United States, sharing strong economic and security interests. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) serves as the fourth largest US goods export market, exporting more than $122 billion in goods and services. US exports to ASEAN support over 625,000 domestic jobs nationwide, with 36% of export-dependent jobs in Wyoming. ASEAN has also invested $24.9 billion in greenfield investments. The United States serves as ASEAN’s second-largest trading partner and has directly invested around $338 billion into the region.
The Biden Administration has increased diplomatic engagement with ASEAN member states, sending high-ranking officials to virtual and in-person meetings. Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin conducted a successful regional tour and Secretary of State Antony Blinken attended a series of virtual meetings with ASEAN counterparts. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia in May and June and Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Singapore and Vietnam later this month. These visits signal a firm US commitment to supporting ongoing economic and defense issues. Congress has also made efforts to deepen relations, including current legislation to employ a comprehensive Southeast Asia strategy.
As the world attempts to recover from the pandemic, the United States has maintained a firm commitment to aid its allies in need — including in Southeast Asia.
Isabel Ayala is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin concentrating in Asian Studies and Government.