Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised a US strategy to strengthen Asian treaty alliances on Tuesday, promising to increase defence and intelligence cooperation with allies in an Indo-Pacific region increasingly concerned about China’s “aggressive acts.”
During a visit to Indonesia, Blinken referred to the Indo-Pacific as the world’s most dynamic region, saying that everyone had a stake in maintaining a status quo free of force and intimidation, a clear reference to China.
He stated that the US, its allies, and some South China Sea claimants would fight any illegal conduct.
In an address at a university, he said, “We’ll work with our allies and partners to protect the rules-based order that we’ve built together over decades to ensure the area remains open and accessible.”
“Let me be clear: protecting the rules-based system does not have the objective of keeping any country down. Rather, it is to safeguard all countries’ ability to choose their own course without fear of compulsion or intimidation.”
Despite some overlapping claims with other coastal governments and an international tribunal ruling that China’s huge claim has no legal basis, China claims practically the whole South China Sea as its own.
Beijing has dismissed the US position as foreign intervention that could jeopardise Asia’s stability. Blinken’s remarks elicited no immediate response from China’s foreign ministry.
Blinken is making his first trip to Southeast Asia since President Joe Biden took office in January, a journey aimed at repairing relations after Donald Trump’s administration cast doubt on the United States’ commitment to the region.
Despite the South China Sea disputes, Beijing’s influence has expanded in recent years as it pushes for additional infrastructure investment and integrated trade relations in the Asia-Pacific, despite the perceived lack of a US economic plan for the region.
Blinken stated that the US would deepen connections with treaty friends such as Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines, as well as boost defence and intelligence capabilities with Indo-Pacific partners and preserve an open and secure internet.
He insisted, though, that the competition was not between a US-centric and a China-centric zone.
He also stated that the US was dedicated to pressuring Myanmar’s military regime to halt bloodshed, release detainees, and return to a democratic state.
He also stated that the US was committed to a new comprehensive regional economic framework, which would involve increased US foreign direct investment and US corporations discovering new opportunities in the region.
The White House has yet to specify what Biden’s proposed economic framework will contain. In 2017, the Trump administration backed out of a multilateral Pacific trade agreement sponsored by the United States.
Blinken said the US would strive to enhance supply chains and fix infrastructure gaps in the area, from ports and roads to power grids and the internet, during his visit to Malaysia and Thailand this week.
In another jab at China, he said the US was hearing more concerns in the Indo-Pacific about foreign companies that imported their own labour, drained natural resources, and polluted the environment through opaque, corrupt processes.
He stated, “Countries in the Indo-Pacific want better infrastructure.”
“However, many people believe it is excessively expensive – or that they are compelled to accept lousy bargains on other people’s conditions rather than no deals at all.”