U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the US will strengthen its military and economic ties with Asian allies to counter China’s growing aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
Blinken stated that the Biden administration is dedicated to sustaining regional peace and prosperity, and that it would do so by strengthening US allies, developing new ties, and ensuring that the US military maintains “its competitive advantage.”
“As threats develop, our security strategy must evolve as well.” To do so, we’ll rely on our most powerful assets: our alliances and partnerships,” Blinken said in an Indonesian address detailing the administration’s Indo-Pacific goals.
“We’ll pursue a policy that better integrates all of our national power instruments — diplomacy, military, and intelligence — with those of our friends and partners,” he added. This would include tying up the military sectors of the United States and Asia, connecting supply chains, and cooperating on technical innovation, he added.
Later, he signed three agreements with Indonesia’s foreign minister, including one that extends through 2026 an existing maritime cooperation treaty that calls for more joint US-Indonesian navy drills, among other things.
“It’s about bolstering our strengths so we can maintain peace in the area, as we did for decades,” he added. He didn’t go into detail, but the government made headlines earlier this year when it agreed to a deal with Australia to construct nuclear-powered submarines.
Blinken reiterated that the US is not attempting to compel nations to choose between the US and China, nor is it aiming to engage in confrontation with China. He did, however, list a litany of grievances about “Beijing’s aggressive moves” from “Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia, and from the Mekong River to the Pacific Islands.”
Blinken is in Indonesia for the beginning of a week-long Southeast Asia tour that will also take him to Malaysia and Thailand. He has prioritized countering China’s rising assertiveness in the area, notably in the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and against Taiwan.
“Countries all throughout the area want to modify this practice,” he added. “We feel the same way.”
“In the South China Sea, we are resolute to protect freedom of navigation,” he stated. “It’s also why peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait are so important to us.”
Blinken stated that the United States “will forge stronger connections” with its five treaty allies in the region — Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand — in order to strengthen bilateral ties and cultivate a stronger partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, many of whose members perceive China as a threat.
“A strong and independent ASEAN has traditionally been vital to addressing urgent crises and long-term issues,” Blinken said, specifically criticizing Myanmar’s military authorities for seizing power in February and cracking down on demonstrators.
“We will continue to work with our friends and partners to encourage the regime to end its indiscriminate brutality, release all those who have been wrongfully imprisoned, provide unrestricted access, and restore Burma’s road to inclusive democracy,” he added.
Blinken praised the administration’s commitment to supplying coronavirus vaccinations to Indo-Pacific countries, as well as its support for their efforts to combat and address climate change.
Although Blinken began his current abroad trip in Britain at a Group of Seven foreign ministers conference that gave a sharp warning to Russia over Ukraine, he limited his remarks to the Indo-Pacific and China.
Blinken discovered that a prominent assistant to Russian President Vladimir Putin, national security advisor Nikolay Patrushev, was already in Jakarta for security discussions when he arrived on Monday.
Blinken said that the administration’s senior diplomat for Europe, Karen Donfried, who is presently in Ukraine, will be flying to Moscow in the coming days to deliver that message, when asked why he had not sought out Patrushev to elaborate on Sunday’s G7 warning.