US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed to strengthen US economic ties with Indonesia and boost investment in the country’s infrastructure after arriving in Jakarta on Monday to begin his first tour of Southeast Asia as a Washington’s top diplomat.

Its trip to the region follows tours by several other senior U.S. officials and will include stops in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, as Washington tries to compete with a China increasingly assertive in its economic and geopolitical influence in the world. Indo-Pacific.

During talks in Jakarta with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Monday, the two discussed strengthening their “strategic partnership,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.

“It is clear that the United States is determined to strengthen its partnership with Indonesia, including in the economic sector,” said Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who was due to meet with Blinken on Tuesday.

Retno said Jokowi wanted to make Indonesia part of the global healthcare supply chain, to which Blinken responded positively.

“Secretary Blinken also expressed his commitment to partner with Indonesia in the area of ​​infrastructure investment,” she told a press conference, without giving further details.

The United States has a fair amount of trade catching up to do with member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In recent months, the Biden administration has sent US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Trade Secretary Raimondo to the region.

Total U.S. trade with ASEAN was $ 135 billion, compared to $ 40 billion for China. Twenty years later, in 2020, China’s trade with ASEAN was $ 685 billion compared to Washington’s $ 362 billion.

Kishore Mahubani, author and scholar, noted in an article for Foreign police that “submarines are stealthy, but commerce is stealthier.”

“Both generate security – the first through deterrence, the second through interdependence. But the kind of security created by commerce lasts longer, ”said the eminent researcher at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.

ASEAN Perspectives on the Indo-Pacific

Yet when the United States and Southeast Asian countries speak, the issue of security is just as important in a region where four ASEAN countries have claims that rival those of China in the disputed South China Sea.

Indonesia does not see itself as a party to the South China Sea dispute, but Beijing is claiming historic rights to parts of that sea straddling Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the Natuna Islands.

In Jakarta, Blinken “reiterated the United States’ commitment to the centrality of ASEAN and our support for ASEAN’s prospects on the Indo-Pacific” during the meeting with Jokowi, the spokesperson said. of the State Department, Ned Price.

ASEAN’s Viewpoint on the Indo-Pacific states that member states should promote freedom, peace, stability and prosperity in the region, through peaceful settlement of disputes, and by promoting the state of law and rejecting the use of threats and force.

Blinken is due to deliver a speech on Washington’s approach to the Indo-Pacific on Tuesday morning in Jakarta.

In a statement released on Sunday, the State Department said Washington and Jakarta are committed to freedom of navigation and overflight in the Indo-Pacific region, alluding to China’s growing assertion in its claims over the major part of the South China Sea.

“We support Indonesia’s considerable efforts to protect its maritime rights and stand up to the PRC [People’s Republic of China] aggression in the South China Sea, including its exclusive economic zone around the Natuna Islands, ”the department said.

“The United States is proud to be Indonesia’s largest defense partner in terms of the number of exercises and annual events we participate in together.

Earlier this month, Indonesian lawmaker Muhammad Farhan revealed that China had demanded that Indonesia stop offshore oil and gas drilling off Natunas, and that Beijing alleged in an unprecedented diplomatic note he These activities have been taking place in southern China a few months ago. Wed.

In a separate diplomatic statement, China also opposed a joint Indonesia-U.S. Military exercise held in August, according to Farhan.

“Correction much needed”

Blinken’s visit “will initiate an increasingly high level of interaction between Indonesia and the United States as part of the strategic partnership between the two countries,” said I Gede Ngurah Swajaya, general manager of the Americas office and Europe to the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. reporters last week announcing Blinken’s visit.

Blinken’s deputy, Deputy Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink, last week called Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand “essential components of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy. Harris. “

“[The] The secretary’s meetings will focus on strengthening the regional security infrastructure in response to the PRC’s bullying in the South China Sea. The secretary will also discuss the PRC’s unilateral actions in the Mekong River, ”Kritenbrink said.

Blinken’s visit to Indonesia “is a much-needed correction to previous oversights,” wrote Ben Bland, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, in an opinion piece for the New York Times.

“So far Washington has shown limited ambition to strengthen relations with Indonesia. Despite warnings about Beijing’s growing strategic influence over Jakarta, it has yet to find significant economic balances, ”Bland wrote, referring to China as a vaccine supplier and funding Belt Initiative projects and Route (BRI) in Indonesia.

“Helping Indonesia emerge from the economic and health crisis caused by the pandemic will win Mr. Joko’s favor while reducing his dependence on Beijing. Supporting Indonesia’s recovery will also strengthen the argument that democracy – not authoritarianism – can be helpful to developing countries in Asia.

“Strategic trust” with Washington and Moscow

Blinken’s trip to Indonesia coincided with a visit there by Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Council, who also met with Jokowi on Monday.

Patrushev was to hold “a bilateral security consultation” with Indonesian Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud MD and sign an international information security cooperation agreement between Indonesia and Russia, Retno said.

Retno said the United States and Russia were both good partners with Indonesia and that Jakarta would continue to develop “strategic trust.”

“Strategic trust is very important as the foundation for forging mutually beneficial and respectful cooperation,” she said.

“Strategic confidence is needed to build a peaceful and prosperous world, and Indonesia is firmly committed to contributing to the creation of a peaceful, stable and prosperous world.”

Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.