Blinken touts deeper U.S. engagement amid concern over ‘aggressive’ China

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  • Says the Indo-Pacific must be free from coercion and intimidation
  • Names dissatisfaction with Chinese companies, loans, infrastructure
  • USA helping keep the internet free and safe – blinking
  • Blinken visiting Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand

JAKARTA, Dec. 14 (Reuters) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday announced a US strategy to deepen its Asian treaty alliances and offered to step up defense and intelligence work with partners in an Indo-Pacific region that is increasingly concerned about China’s “aggressive Actions “is.

During a visit to Indonesia, Blinken described the Indo-Pacific as the most dynamic region in the world, in which everyone has an interest in ensuring a status quo without coercion and intimidation, with a barely disguised reference to China.

He said the United States, its allies and some South China Sea plaintiffs would fight back against illegal activity.

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“We will work with our allies and partners to defend the rules-based order that we have built together over decades to ensure that the region remains open and accessible,” Blinken said in a speech at a university.

“Let me be clear: the goal of defending the rules-based order is not to make any country small. It is rather to protect the right of all countries to choose their own path free from coercion and intimidation.”

China claims almost the entire South China Sea for itself, although some claims overlap with other coastal states and an international tribunal has ruled that its extensive claims have no legal basis.

Beijing has rejected US stance as interference by an external power that could threaten Asia’s stability.

In response to Blinken’s remarks, China’s State Department spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing in the Chinese capital that the United States should encourage cooperation in the region rather than “drawing ideological boundaries.”

Blinken is making its first visit to Southeast Asia since President Joe Biden took office in January, a trip aimed at cementing ties after a period of uncertainty over US engagement in Asia under the Donald Trump administration.

“A BETTER KIND OF INFRASTRUCTURE”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gesticulates during a conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as US Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Y. Kim, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Indonesian Secretary of State Pratikno stand during their meeting at Merdeka Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 13. 2021. Courtesy of Lukas / Indonesia’s Presidential Palace / Handout via REUTERS

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Despite the tensions in the South China Sea, Beijing’s influence has increased in recent years as it spurs more infrastructure investment and integrated trade in the Asia-Pacific region as a US economic strategy for the region is believed to be absent.

Blinken said the United States would strengthen ties with treaty allies such as Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines, strengthen defense and intelligence capabilities with Indo-Pacific partners, and defend an open and secure Internet.

However, he stressed that it was not a question of competition between a US-centered or China-centered region.

He also said Washington is determined to press the Myanmar military junta to end the violence, release prisoners and return to inclusive democracy.

The United States is also advocating a new comprehensive regional economic framework that would include more US foreign direct investment and US companies that would identify new opportunities in the region, he said, without giving details.

The government has yet to explain what exactly Biden’s planned economic framework conditions will bring with it. In 2017, the Trump administration abandoned a US-inspired multinational trade deal with the Pacific.

Blinken, who will also visit Malaysia and Thailand this week, said the United States would work to strengthen supply chains and fill the region’s infrastructure gaps, from ports and roads to power grids and the internet.

In another blow to China, he said the United States was hearing increasing concerns in the Indo-Pacific about opaque, corrupt processes by foreign companies that imported their own labor, abstracted natural resources and polluted the environment.

“Countries in the Indo-Pacific want better infrastructure,” he said.

“But many find it too expensive – or feel pressured to make bad deals on other people’s terms instead of not making deals at all.”

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Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional coverage from Emily Chow; Letter from Martin Petty; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

https://www.reuters.com/world/blinken-says-us-advance-alliances-ensure-free-indo-pacific-2021-12-14/