Blinken Begins Southeast Asia Tour, With China In Focus


Jakarta (AFP), Dec 13 – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday began a Southeast Asia tour with a first stop in Jakarta that paralleled the visit of a senior Russian official.

After talks with Blinken, Indonesian President Joko Widodo hosted Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, a close associate of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Indonesian officials said.

Arriving after G7 foreign ministers’ talks dominated by tensions with Russia, Blinken met with Widodo and “expressed support for Indonesia’s leadership in the Indo-Pacific, as the world’s third-largest democracy and a strong proponent of the rules-based international order”, the US state department said.

The discussion was “warm and open”, said Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who stressed her country’s desire to see the US increase investment in the Southeast Asian nation.

After the meetings, Marsudi underlined the country’s willingness to cultivate good relations with all its partners.

“Both the US and Russia (are) two good partners of Indonesia… (which) will always develop strategic trust with all countries and all partners of Indonesia”, she said in a video briefing.

Patrushev stressed Moscow’s commitment to preserving “the modern security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region”, according to a statement from the Russian embassy in Jakarta.

On Tuesday, Blinken will deliver an address on the “US approach to the Indo-Pacific”, a key US-China battleground.

US President Joe Biden’s strategy does not differ fundamentally from that of former president Donald Trump’s government — insisting that the region should remain free and open in the face of rising Chinese aggression.

But Biden’s team has put a heavier emphasis on building alliances to counter Beijing, after the turbulence and unpredictability of the Trump era.

After Indonesia, Blinken heads to Malaysia and Thailand.

In his meetings, he will highlight what the US administration says is the importance of Southeast Asia in US foreign policy.

He will “focus on strengthening the regional security infrastructure in response to PRC bullying in the South China Sea,” Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters ahead of the trip, using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China.

“We oppose any actions by the People’s Republic of China or any other actor designed to destabilise the region,” Kritenbrink said.

Tensions have been stoked by Beijing’s claims to almost all of the South China Sea, which overlap with those of several Southeast Asian states.

Blinken also plans to address the worsening crisis in Myanmar, which has been in chaos since a military coup in February.

He has said China poses “the biggest geopolitical test” of the century but is seeking to walk a fine line between competition and confrontation.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have nevertheless soured in recent years particularly over democratic, self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its territory and has vowed to retake one day, by force if necessary.

Source: capital news