Leading US Diplomat for Asia to Visit Four Southeast Asian Countries | World news

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – America’s top diplomat for East Asia will visit Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand from the weekend after President Joe Biden pledged to step up his engagement with Southeast Asia, a key battleground in its contest for influence with China.

Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, will be in the region from Saturday to December 4, according to a State Department statement.

Kritenbrink “would reaffirm the United States’ commitment to work together (…) behavior in the region, which Washington has repeatedly denounced as” coercive. “

Kritenbrink to discuss human rights “challenges”, seek to strengthen cooperation on climate change and discuss ways to pressure Myanmar’s military government to stop violence and allow unhindered humanitarian access, according to the statement. .

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He will also discuss how to strengthen economic relations and “rebuild better” after the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Biden joined leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a virtual summit last month, the first time in four years that Washington had engaged at the highest level with the bloc.

He pledged to support ASEAN in defending the freedom of the seas and democracy, and said Washington would start talks on developing a regional economic framework, which critics say its strategy in Asia has failed since his predecessor Donald Trump left a regional trade pact.

An Asian diplomat said countries in the region are still awaiting details of the plan, acknowledging that Biden’s focus on rebuilding national economic strength was a limiting factor.

Daniel Russel, a predecessor of Kritenbrink in the Obama administration, said a key question for ASEAN was “whether the United States really has a viable economic strategy” for the region.

“The commitment to discuss ways to strengthen the United States’ economic engagement with ASEAN countries is music to their ears, although they may so far be disappointed with the” economic framework. ” “, did he declare.

Kritenbrink’s trip announcement highlighted the “centrality” of ASEAN’s 10 members to regional affairs, but he will not visit the bloc’s new president, Cambodia, which has moved ever closer to the country. China.

The Asian diplomat and Russel said Kritenbrink was likely to visit other ASEAN countries before long and Russel noted that the Indonesian capital Jakarta is home to the bloc’s permanent headquarters.

“While it is important to discuss the ASEAN agenda with the 2022 President, the visit to ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta will give him the opportunity to start this conversation,” said Russel.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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