Blinken outlines US plans to deepen engagement with Indo-Pacific region
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
By Jon Perez
The United States is ramping up its presence in the Indo-Pacific region amid the growing threat of China’s aggressive expansion in the Pacific and the territorial claims in the South China Sea—a hot button issue that the new superpower is contesting with several other countries including the Philippines, which sought the help of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken addressed regional stability when he outlined the Biden administration’s policies for the region during his trip to Jakarta, Indonesia on the first leg of his Southeast Asian tour.
China, in almost two decades, has also slowly muscled its way to the Pacific region and eight years ago launched a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road as part of its billion-dollar Belt and Road initiative that would invest and create partnerships with countries in Oceania to connect the Pacific Ocean to the South China Sea.
Fourteen sovereign nations and seven territories, with thousands of islands and atolls scattered over 160 million square kilometers of the Pacific continent, are home to over 40 million people. The U.S. is seeking to maintain its foothold in the region and curb China's growing influence in the Pacific.
“That's why there's so much concern from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia, from the Mekong River to the Pacific Islands, about Beijing's aggressive actions,” Blinken said, enumerating China’s activities to boost its influence on the world stage.
“Claiming open seas as their own. Distorting open markets through subsidies to its state-run companies. Denying the exports or revoking deals for countries whose policies it does not agree with. Engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities.”
He added that the U.S. wants to maintain the status quo in the South China Sea, which China is threatening to disrupt with its territorial claims.
“Countries across the region want this behavior to change; we [US] do too. That’s why we're determined to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s aggressive actions threaten the movement of more than $3 trillion worth of commerce every year," Blinken said.
“It’s worth remembering that tied up in that colossal number [$3 trillion] are the actual livelihoods and well-being of millions of people across the world. That means farmers are blocked from shipping their products. Factories can’t ship their microchips. Hospitals are blocked amid life-saving medicines," he added.
Blinken said the U.S. is building stronger ties with allies including Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand in the interest of peace and stability in the region—including the Taiwan Strait. “Those bonds have long provided the foundation for peace, security, and prosperity in the region will foster greater cooperation among these allies as well.”
He added that the U.S. also plans to close the infrastructure gap in the region by helping Pacific nations build ports, roads, power grids and broadband that are building blocks for global trade and commerce.
“We’re hearing increasing concerns from government officials, industry, labor, and communities in the Pacific about what happens when infrastructure isn’t done right.”
“Like when it’s awarded through an opaque process, were built by overseas companies that import their own labor, extract resources, pollute the environment, and drive communities into debt.”
Blinken announced that the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Nauru are three countries that would benefit from a U.S.-led multibillion-dollar project in partnership with Australia and Japan.
“Together with Australia and Japan, we announced a partnership with the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, and Nauru to build a new undersea cable to improve internet connectivity to these specific nations," he said.
“And since 2015, members of the quad have provided more than $48 billion in government back financing for infrastructure for the region," Blinken said. "This represents thousands of projects across more than 30 countries, from rural development to renewable energy that benefits millions of people. The Quad recently launched an infrastructure coordination group to catalyze even more investment, and it is looking to partner with Southeast Asia on infrastructure and many other shared priorities.".”
Blinken said the U.S. will bolster security against evolving threats in the region. “Our security approach has to evolve with we'll see closer civilian security cooperation to tackle challenges ranging from violent extremism to illegal fishing to human trafficking. And we'll adopt a strategy that more closely weaves together all our instruments of national power, diplomacy, military intelligence, with those of our allies and our partners.”
“Our Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin calls this 'integrated deterrence," and it's about reinforcing our strengths so that we can keep the peace as we've done in the region for decades. We don't want conflict in the Indo-Pacific," Blinken said.
"That's why we see serious and sustained diplomacy with [North Korea] with the ultimate goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. We'll work with allies and partners to address the threat posed by the DPRK nuclear missile programs through a calibrated practical approach, while also strengthening our extended deterrence.”