U.S. turns at­ten­tion to South­east Asia

Pence vis­its In­done­sia, says Trump will fol­low him later in the year

The Dallas Morning News - - WORLD - Ken Thomas, The Associated Press

JAKARTA, In­done­sia — South­east Asia has been over­looked thus far by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, but Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence’s visit to In­done­sia on Thurs­day marked a sign of change, and he an­nounced that the pres­i­dent would fol­low him to the re­gion later this year.

Anx­ious South­east Asian gov­ern­ments are look­ing for a U.S. com­mit­ment to counter China’s ris­ing eco­nomic and mil­i­tary clout. Viet­nam’s for­eign min­is­ter is in Wash­ing­ton this week, and the top di­plo­mats of the re­gion’s 10-na­tion bloc are ex­pected to ar­rive in early May.

Pence’s stop in Jakarta on a 10-day swing through the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, meet­ing with In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo, sends a mes­sage that Trump’s in­ter­ests in Asia ex­tend be­yond North Korea and the mas­sive U.S. trade im­bal­ance with China.

Pence an­nounced that Trump would at­tend the an­nual sum­mit of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions, or ASEAN, in Novem­ber.

Wash­ing­ton is “tak­ing steps to strengthen our part­ner­ship with ASEAN and deepen our friend­ship,” Pence said, re­solv­ing to strengthen eco­nomic ties and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion in com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism and in the dis­puted South China Sea.

This year marks ASEAN’s 50th an­niver­sary. Novem­ber’s sum­mit will be in the Philip­pines, set­ting the stage for an en­counter be­tween two un­con­ven­tional lead­ers: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the host, Ro­drigo Duterte, who is some­times likened to the U.S. leader be­cause of his out­spo­ken­ness and pop­ulism.

U.S.-Philip­pine re­la­tions are strained over Duterte’s war on drugs and his brash ef­forts to forge closer ties with China. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama scrapped a planned meet­ing last fall af­ter Duterte cursed him. Be­fore that, Obama en­gaged South­east Asia more than any U.S. pres­i­dent since the af­ter­math of the Viet­nam War and made ASEAN sum­mits a fix­ture in his diplo­matic cal­en­dar.

Trump’s “Amer­ica First” rhetoric and abrupt with­drawal from Obama’s pro­posed pan-Pa­cific trade pact raised fears of U.S. pro­tec­tion­ism hurt­ing the re­gion’s 600 mil­lion peo­ple. They do $225 bil­lion in trade with the U.S. each year.

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