JAKARTA, Indonesia — The United States will expand its military and economic relationships with partners in Asia to push back against China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday.
Blinken said the Biden administration is committed to maintaining peace and prosperity in the region and will do that by boosting U.S. alliances, forging new relationships and ensuring that the U.S. military maintains “its competitive edge.”
“Threats are evolving, our security approach has to evolve with them. To do that, we will lean on our greatest strength: our alliances and partnerships,” Blinken said in a speech in Indonesia, outlining the administration’s Indo-Pacific plans.
“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 partners,” he said. This will be accomplished by linking the U.S. with Asian defense industry, as well as integrating supply chain and working together on technological innovation.
“It’s about reinforcing our strengths so we can keep the peace, as we have done in the region for decades,” he said. While he did not go into detail, he said that the Australian government had made headlines earlier in the year when it signed a deal to produce submarines powered by nuclear energy.
Blinken maintained that the U.S. does not want to make countries choose between China and the United States, or seek conflict with China. But he laid out a litany of complaints about “Beijing’s aggressive actions” from “Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia and from the Mekong River to the Pacific Islands.”
Blinken will be in Indonesia for the first leg of his three-nation, week-long tour through Southeast Asia. He also plans to visit Malaysia and Thailand. Countering China’s growing aggressiveness in the region, particularly in the South China Sea, in Hong Kong and against Taiwan is prominent on his agenda.
“Countries across the region want this behavior to change,” he said. “We do too.”
“We are determined to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” he said. “It is also why we have an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Blinken said U.S. “will forge stronger connections” with its five treaty allies in the region — Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand — boost ties between them and cultivate a stronger partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, many of whose members feel threatened by China.
“A strong and independent ASEAN has long been central to tackle urgent crises and long-term challenges,” Blinken said, in particular calling out the military rulers of Myanmar, also known as Burma, for their February takeover and subsequent crackdown on protesters.
“We will continue to work with our allies and partners to press the regime to cease its indiscriminate violence, release all of those unjustly detained, allow unhindered access, and restore Burma’s path to inclusive democracy,” he said.
Blinken also lauded the administration’s commitment to providing coronavirus vaccines to the countries of the Indo-Pacific and its support for their efforts to combat and deal with climate change.
Blinken kept his comments to China and Indo-Pacific. However, Blinken began his journey overseas in Britain as a Group of Seven ministers meeting. This met with Russia to warn them about Ukraine.
Blinken arrived in Indonesia Monday to find that Nikolay Patrushev (national security advisor) was in Jakarta as part of security talks.