US Secretary of State begins Southeast Asia tour in Indonesia

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Dec 14, 2021: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made a “very significant” commitment to Indonesia, the country’s foreign minister has said, as the top US diplomat began a trip to Southeast Asia amid growing tensions with China in the region.

The State Department said in a statement that Blinken met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday and stressed the importance of a “strategic partnership” between the two countries.

Blinken praised the “Indonesian leadership” in the Indo-Pacific and called the country “a strong supporter of the world’s third largest democracy and rule of law”.

After Blinken’s meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Washington was interested in partnering with Jakarta, including on infrastructure. “The American commitment was noticeable,” Retno told reporters without elaborating.

The US Secretary of State is scheduled to deliver a speech on the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific approach in the Indonesian capital on Tuesday morning, local time.

Blinken will also visit Malaysia and Thailand during his tour of the region, which has seen fierce competition between Washington and Beijing for influence. The United States intends to join the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at an “unprecedented level,” Daniel Curtin-Brink, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told reporters before Blinken’s visit.

President Joe Biden, who attended the US-ASEAN Virtual Summit in October, pledged to deepen cooperation with the bloc. The United States has previously expressed support for some ASEAN countries in tensions with China over the South China Sea, a major trade route that Beijing claims.

Blinken’s visit to Southeast Asia comes less than a week after the United States, Canada and Australia announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing human rights abuses by the Chinese government, including the treatment of Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang region. The United States has accused China of committing genocide against Uighurs – a claim denied by the Chinese government. China has rejected the diplomatic boycott, calling it a “political maneuver” against the spirit of the Olympics.

China had earlier this year objected to joint US-British efforts to supply nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. Beijing also expressed concern over Biden’s efforts to strengthen the quad alliance with India, Japan and Australia after the White House hosted the summit in September.

In the midst of these tensions, Biden held a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, in which he called on Beijing to work together on common interests and resolve differences. Prior to the meeting, Xi warned of a return to Cold War-era tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

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