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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

US advances engagement in Indo-Pacific to counter China's threat

David Stilwell

The United States has beefed up it alliance with partner nations to advance its engagement with Indo-Pacific states to counter China's growing attempts to dominate the region.

"It is now clear to us, and to more and more countries around the world, that the (Chinese Communist Party) under General Secretary Xi Jinping is not seeking to join the free and open international order we and our allies and partners have fought and died to defend for generations," said David R. Stilwell, assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Speaking before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Stilwell said China is taking on all sorts of ploys to to breach the international rules-based order and project power across the world, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

"All nations should worry how this outcome would negatively affect the global community and the values we share," he said.

China has been seeking to expand its presence in the Indo-Pacific region through a bipolar approach, ramping up its military aggression to claim disputed territories in the South China Sea while seeking to build allies through its Belt and Road Initiative to secure its clout in the Indo-Pacific region.

"Beijing’s aggressive behavior takes many forms, including assaults on foreign companies and governments; manipulation of international organizations; silencing of critics abroad; buying, stealing, or forcing the transfer of technology to further its military and economic ambitions; and spreading disinformation," Stilwell said.

Global alliances and partnerships are paramount to addressing strategic competition with China, Stillwell said.

"And in no region is this more true than the Indo-Pacific – a region that accounts for more than half the world’s population and GDP," Stilwell said. "As we take account of China’s efforts globally, we must continue to remember that the Indo-Pacific is the frontline in our strategic competition with China."

Underscoring the geopolitical importance of the Indo-Pacific, Stilwell noted President Trump's U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific launched three years ago in Da Nang, Vietnam, to advance a vision for the region in which all countries prosper side by side as sovereign, independent states.

"The Indo-Pacific Strategy is fundamentally about supporting the autonomy of Indo-Pacific states facing (China) attempts to dominate the region. It rests on cooperation with allies and partners, as well as the centrality of ASEAN, APEC and other institutions in the regional architecture," Stilwell said.

Stillwell said the U.S. has advanced its economic initiatives in lockstep with allies such as the Blue Dot Networ, which has been launched with Australia and Japan. "In the Indo-Pacific region, we are working together on the ground, for example through a five-country partnership with Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, to bring electricity to the people of Papua New Guinea," he said.

At the same time, the USAID has doubled development assistance to Pacific Island partners through the Pacific Pledge.

"Never before have we had so many people on the ground, in so many Pacific Island countries. We are developing new arrangements to coordinate with like-minded partners," Stilwell said. "In September 2019, the first ministerial-level meeting of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan at the Quadrilateral Consultations marked a new milestone in Indo-Pacific diplomatic engagement."

Two years ago, the U.S. launched the Indo-Pacific Transparency Initiative to promote good governance, which is integral to U.S. foreign policy and national security interests.

"With it, we are optimizing longstanding programs and launching new ones focused on particular vectors of PRC influence, including corruption, disinformation and information control, and coercive financing. These programs promote civil society, rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and transparent and accountable governments across the region," Stilwell said.

Adding to the list of China's nefarious activities was the coronavirus unleashed from Wuhan. One of China’s leading virologists, Dr. Li-meng Yan, warned that the coronavirus was “just the tip of the iceberg.”

"She was speaking as an epidemiologist and urging a global response to prevent future outbreaks, but that analogy is a useful way to think about CCP aggression and malign activities globally," Stilwell said

"Beijing’s cover-up of the outbreak of Covid-19 has made urgently clear to the international community the dangers of the CCP’s lack of transparency and use of disinformation to global health and security. This is not an aberration; this is a reflection of how the CCP operates."

The U.S. is not asking countries to choose sides, Stilwell said, but "simply to hold Beijing accountable for its malign behavior, and in the process to protect their own national sovereignty, security, and long-term economic well-being."

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