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Blinken looks to Southeast Asia to strengthen cooperation against China’s pushback

_WE.  Secretary of State Blinken meets with Norwegian Foreign Minister Huitfeldt, in Washington
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stands on as he meets Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt (not pictured) at the State Department in Washington, U.S., December 9, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/Pool.

December 12, 2021

By Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration will seek to strengthen economic and security cooperation with Southeast Asia through a visit to the region next week by the country’s top diplomat, aiming to forge a front. united against China in the Indo-Pacific.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will arrive in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Monday and will also visit Malaysia and Thailand on his first tour of Southeast Asia since President Joe Biden took office in January.

Southeast Asia has become a strategic battleground between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies. China claims most of the South China Sea, a key trade route linking the region, and has exerted military and political pressure on self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing considers its own.

Blinken will pursue Biden’s goal of elevating its commitment to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to an “unprecedented” level, with a focus on strengthening the region’s security infrastructure in the face of “compulsions.” bullying” and discussed the president’s vision for an Indo-Pacific economic framework, the top US diplomat for Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, told reporters ahead of the trip.

The Biden administration views Southeast Asia as vital to its efforts to counter China’s growing power, but the lack of a formal structure for economic engagement since former President Donald Trump abandoned an accord Regional trade agreements in 2017 limited the country’s ability to exert influence, while Beijing only grew.

The administration has yet to define exactly what Biden’s projected economic framework will entail, although Kritenbrink said it will focus on trade facilitation, the digital economy, resilience. of supply chains, infrastructure, clean energy and worker standards.

Analysts and diplomats say Blinken will likely seek to appeal to countries by hanging up the prospect of American companies relocating production out of China as part of efforts to ensure a responsive supply chain. emotional and financial development. But there is no sign of being ready to provide the increased access to the US market that the region craves.

Matthew Goodman, regional economist at the Center for Strategy and International Studies.

“What has been implemented so far holds a lot of promise in that respect, but it needs to be complemented.”

An Asian diplomat said the Biden administration has shown seriousness in its desire to strengthen engagement with Southeast Asia through a series of high-level visits this year, Biden’s participation in summits regional and long-term security cooperation.

“But they have no reaction to China in terms of the economy,” he said. “The Chinese are 20 years ahead of the game. America needs to do something to help the less developed Southeast Asian countries. Sending an aircraft carrier is not enough”.

Senior Biden administration figures, including Indo-Pacific policymaker Kurt Campbell, are acutely aware of the need to compete more effectively economically in the region with China. , but any move to rejoin the trade deal Trump abandoned would be politically difficult given his pledge to rebuild a domestic economy. Critics say the economy is threatened by such mechanisms.

Goodman said that Biden’s plan could still be appealing, despite its limitations.

“If you are Vietnam, you are Indonesia or Thailand, you want to be a place where Apple can reposition its assembly capabilities,” he said.

“So there’s a lot of fun in that for these countries, but a lot more details need to be provided before they’re convinced.”

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis)

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DUSTIN JONES

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