US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday called on China to suspend “aggressive action” in the Indo-Pacific as Washington seeks to strengthen alliances with Beijing.
President Joe Biden’s administration is trying to reset the relationship and recreate its influence in Asia after the turbulence and unpredictability of the Donald Trump era.
Blinken’s comments came in Indonesia, the first part of a Southeast Asian tour, the most recent visit to the region by a senior U.S. official in recent months.
In a speech outlining the US approach to the Indo-Pacific, Blinken said Washington would work with allies and partners to “defend the rule-based order” and countries should have the right to “choose their own path”.
“That’s why there is so much concern – from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia and from the Mekong River to the Pacific Islands – over Beijing’s aggressive actions.
“Claims open sea as their own. Distortion of open markets through subsidies to its state-run enterprises. Refuses to export or revoke agreements for countries whose policies it does not agree with.”
“Countries across the region want this behavior to change – so do we,” he said during a speech at the University of Indonesia.
He added that Washington was “determined to secure freedom to sail in the South China Sea,” saying that Beijing’s actions threaten the movement of more than $ 3 trillion in trade each year.
But Blinken also stressed that “this is not about a competition between a US-centric region or a China-centric region – the Indo-Pacific is its own region,” and said Washington wanted to avoid conflict there.
China claims almost the entire resource-rich South China Sea, with competing demands from four Southeast Asian states as well as Taiwan.
Beijing has been accused of having installed a number of military hardware, including anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles there, and ignored a 2016 international court ruling declaring its historic claims over most of the waters to be baseless.
Blinken also said Washington wants to ensure “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Tensions between the United States and China have risen sharply over autonomous, democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its territory and has promised to reclaim one day, by force if necessary.
Blinken seeks to highlight the growing importance of Southeast Asia for US foreign policy on the journey, although his administration has to contend with countless other crises, from Iran to Russia.
Countries in the region are facing an increasingly tough task of trying to maintain good relations with both Beijing – an important trading partner – and Washington, which is crucial to maintaining the region’s security.
Russia is also trying to assert its influence in the region.
After holding talks with Blinken on Monday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo met with Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, a senior Russian official.
After Indonesia, Blinken goes to Malaysia and Thailand.
Relations between the United States and China have worsened over a range of issues from cybersecurity and technological supremacy to human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Biden has largely continued Trump’s hawkish stance on China, describing Asian power as the prominent challenge to the United States.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)