Blinken Dispatches Aides Across Asia as US, China Seek Support

  • Vice President Harris also addressing Pacific Island nations
  • Wang says he gave Blinken blueprint for US-China co-existence

Senior US officials are spreading out across Asia following Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s brief trip to the region, in the next phase of a diplomatic charm offensive that comes after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi carried out extensive travel there in recent weeks.

With Blinken back in Washington Monday ahead of President Joe Biden’s Mideast trip later this week, some of his key aides have branched out following the top US diplomat’s visits to Thailand and Indonesia, where he urged Wang to stop pledging neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Dan Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs who accompanied Blinken for his meeting with Wang, continued on to Cambodia for meetings with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn. Separately, State Department Counselor Derek Chollet is heading to South Korea for talks with senior officials on issues including North Korea.

And in a move underscoring the increasing importance of Pacific nations to the US Indo-Pacific strategy, Vice President Kamala Harris plans to virtually address a gathering of Pacific Island leaders in Suva, Fiji, on Tuesday. The US will be represented in person at the meeting by Assistant Secretary of State Monica Medina, who will discuss topics including illegal fishing — an issue often blamed on Chinese trawlers.

The broad US diplomatic push follows a lengthy tour of Southeast Asia by China’s Wang, who has been holding detailed talks with senior officials about specific infrastructure projects and Chinese investments. It also comes after several high-level US trips to the region over the last several months including by Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Wang said he gave Blinken during their meeting a blueprint for mutual co-existence in the Asia Pacific region. He said the guidelines for that relationship should be: Support the centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and uphold existing regional cooperation frameworks; respect each others’ legitimate rights and interests in the Asia Pacific; and promote stability while providing “more public goods” to the region.

Asked what Wang’s more detailed itinerary said about the state of US-China strategic competition in the region, Blinken said countries shouldn’t feel like they have to choose between the world’s two biggest economies. But he went on to contrast the two countries’ approaches, saying the US wanted a “race to the top — that is, we do things to the highest standards — not a race to the bottom, where we do things to the lowest standards.”

He also cited the new US Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and a US-led push to spur more global infrastructure investment, which also applies to the region.

“We make sure, for example, that when we’re conducting investments in infrastructure we’re not ladling countries with debt,” Blinken said at a press conference in Bali. “That we are advancing the protections for workers, for the environment, that we’re not advancing corruption, that we’re having people from the countries in question actually benefit from getting to do the work on the projects in question.”

Author: Iain Marlow, Bloomberg

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