US Secretary of State Antony Blinken used a visit to the Indo-Pacific to urge China to stop its “aggressive actions” in the region, as Washington seeks to strengthen its alliances against Beijing.
President Joe Biden’s administration is trying to restore relations and reaffirm its influence in Asia after the turmoil and unpredictability of the Donald Trump era.
Blinken’s comments came from Indonesia, the first stop on a tour of Southeast Asia, the last visit to the region by a senior US official in recent months.
In a speech describing the US approach to the Indo-Pacific, Blinken said Washington would work with its allies and partners to “defend the rules-based order” and that countries should have the right to “choose their own.” way “.
âThis is why Beijing’s aggressive actions are causing so much concern – from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia and from the Mekong River to the Pacific Islands.
“Claiming open seas as theirs. Distortion of open markets by subsidies to its state-owned enterprises. Deny exports or revoke agreements for countries whose policies it disagrees with.
“The countries of the region want this behavior to change – so do we,” he said during the speech at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta.
He added that Washington was “determined to guarantee freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” and said Beijing’s actions there threatened the movement of more than $ 3 billion in trade each year.
But Blinken also pointed out that “this is not a conflict between a US-centric region or a China-centric region – the Indo-Pacific is its own region,” and said that Washington wanted to avoid conflicts there.
China claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, with competing claims from four Southeast Asian states as well as Taiwan.
Beijing has been accused of deploying a range of military hardware there, including anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles, and has ignored a 2016 international tribunal ruling that declared its historic claim to most waters baseless.
Blinken also said that Washington wanted to ensure “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.
Tensions between the United States and China have skyrocketed over a democratic and self-sufficient Taiwan, which China claims as its territory and has pledged to recapture one day, by force if necessary.
Blinken seeks to highlight the growing importance of Southeast Asia to US foreign policy on this trip, even as his administration grapples with a myriad of other crises, from Iran to Russia.
Countries in the region face an increasingly difficult task of trying to maintain good relations with Beijing – a key trading partner – and Washington, vital to maintaining the security of the region.
Russia is also trying to assert its influence in the region.
After speaking with Blinken on Monday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo met with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. After Indonesia, Blinken is heading for Malaysia and Thailand.
Relations between the United States and China have deteriorated on a range of issues ranging from cybersecurity and technological supremacy to human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Biden broadly pursued Trump’s hawkish stance on China, describing the Asian power as the preeminent challenge for the United States.