Blinken makes first visit to Southeast Asia as US makes region a priority – Radio Free Asia – Community News
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Blinken makes first visit to Southeast Asia as US makes region a priority – Radio Free Asia

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Indonesia and Malaysia next week as Southeast Asia becomes a priority for Washington amid mounting tensions with an increasingly aggressive China, analysts said Monday.

It will be Blinken’s first visit to Southeast Asia as America’s top diplomat. According to the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during his trip to Jakarta on December 13 and 14, he is to give a lecture on Washington’s new Indo-Pacific strategy.

Blinken’s visit “will spark an increasingly intense interaction between Indonesia and the United States in the context of the strategic partnership between the two countries,” said I Gede Ngurah Swajaya, director general of Indonesia’s Americas and Europe Division. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to reporters. .

In Jakarta, Blinken will hold talks with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Ngurah said. They will discuss a range of strategic issues, including trade and investment, infrastructure, climate change and health sector cooperation, Ngurah said.

“Blinken plans to [also] virtually attend the Bali Democracy Forum meeting on December 9,” ​​Ngurah said of the annual conference established in 2008 to promote progressive democratic institutions in the Asia-Pacific region.

It was not yet known whether the American diplomat would also meet with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

Blinken will attend the forum while his boss, US President Joseph Biden, will simultaneously host the Summit for Democracy on December 9 and 10.

After Jakarta, Blinken will make a stop in Kuala Lumpur, Ngurah said, without providing details. Reuters quoted anonymous sources as saying the visit to Malaysia is scheduled for December 14-15.

Blinken may also visit Thailand, according to a report last week by Japan’s Kyodo News service, so a possible visit to Bangkok after Malaysia would make sense.

Washington, under the Biden administration, has stepped up its involvement in Southeast Asia.

Blinken’s visit would come about two weeks after Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink made a stop in Jakarta as part of a four-country tour of the region.

Kritenbrink’s visit, in turn, followed trips to the region by Vice President Kamala Harris, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and State Department adviser Derek Chollett.

BenarNews contacted the US embassy in Jakarta for confirmation about Blinken’s visit, but received no immediate response.

‘New, expanded Indo-Pacific strategy’

During his trip to Indonesia, Blinken will deliver a policy speech on US strategy in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Blinken will also discuss progress on strategic issues related to Indonesia-United States cooperation,” Ngurah said.

Blinken first mentioned this”new expanded Indo-Pacific strategy” at a September meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers. At the time and since then, Blinken and other officials have said Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy has much in common with ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific Outlook.

The US strategy “builds on our shared vision for a free, open, interconnected, resilient and secure region,” Blinken had said in September.

“Like ASEAN’s prospects, it reflects the importance of Southeast Asia to the Indo-Pacific region and the critical role ASEAN plays in shaping the region’s future.”

ASEAN’s vision for the Indo-Pacific states, among other things, that member states should promote freedom, peace, stability and prosperity in the region, through peaceful settlement of disputes, and by promoting the rule of law and rejecting the use of threats. and strength.

Despite China’s oral agreement to ASEAN’s prospects, Southeast Asia has become a global geopolitical hotspot as Beijing militarizes and expands its territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.

China claims historic rights to nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea, an area roughly delineated by a line of nine dashes. But there are other claimants, including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Beijing has financial influence over many of these countries, and analysts say it has encouraged China to allegedly enter the waters and airspaces of other countries.

Blinken visit ‘a positive thing’

According to Hunter Marston, an international relations expert at the Australian National University, Blinken’s visit to Southeast Asia should be viewed not only through the prism of competition between the US and China, but also in the context of a renewed involvement in the region.

“Washington is also beginning to realize that these smaller countries are important for a variety of other reasons, including thriving trade and human relations, all of which are critical to the continued regional relevance of the US going forward,” Marston told BenarNews, a RFA. -connected online news service.

Muhammad Arif, a lecturer in international relations at the University of Indonesia, welcomed Blinken’s planned visit.

“Discussing issues like investment and infrastructure is also a positive thing, because it means the US government realizes that the US and the region need to work together in addition to security issues,” Arif told BenarNews.

That way, he said, Indonesia and other countries in the ASEAN region can benefit from healthy competition between the US and China in infrastructure and investment, he said.

An ASEAN Summit in Washington?

During Kritenbrink’s visit last week, Arif had said Washington should give more importance to Southeast Asia.

“[A] visit of the Deputy Secretary of State [Kritenbrink] cannot compensate for the lack of involvement at a higher level,” he told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, according to reports from Kyodo News and the state-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA), Biden is proposing an ASEAN summit in Washington next month. The US has proposed to hold the summit in the third week of January and is discussing the date with ASEAN members, regional bloc sources said.

Kyodo and VNA had also said Blinken’s visit to Southeast Asia would precede that potential summit.

BenarNews reached out to the State Department in Washington on December 3 to confirm confirmation of a US-ASEAN summit, but a spokesperson replied, “We do not have any meetings or trips to announce at this time.”

If this proposed summit were indeed held, it would be the first face-to-face meeting between Biden and ASEAN leaders since he took office in January.

Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with the RFA.

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