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Kritenbrink Sets Tone For US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s ASEAN Visit

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US Secretary of State Assistant Secretary Daniel Joseph Kritenbrink sets the tone and agenda that will dominate the visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

Blinken’s travel to the three Asean member states comes right after the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers meeting in the UK.

“The Secretary’s trip will come on the heels of several recent senior-level visits to the region, including by Commerce Secretary Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Tai.  Incidentally, I also just returned from the region over the weekend,” says Kritenbrink.

Kritenbrink says the Secretary’s trip is the latest example of the Biden-Harris administration’s sustained engagement with Indo-Pacific countries. 

He says both Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin made Asia their first stops after they were confirmed because as an Indo-Pacific nation, America’s security and economic interests are intrinsically tied to the preservation of the rules-based order that has served all of us so well. 

And these three countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand – are essential components of the Biden-Harris administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

The Secretary’s trip will focus on the following areas: security, health, economy, and people-to-people ties.  He will also discuss the climate crisis, democracy and human rights, and our efforts to address the worsening crisis in Burma.

On security, the Secretary’s meetings will focus on strengthening the regional security infrastructure in response to PRC bullying in the South China Sea.  The Secretary will also discuss unilateral PRC actions in the Mekong River.

On health, Blinken will highlight U.S. commitments to helping all countries emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Thus far, the United States has contributed over 90 million vaccine doses to the region as part of President Biden’s pledge to help provide 1.2 billion doses to the world. 

“All of this, of course, has been done with no strings attached,” says Kritenbrink in a briefing on the Secretary’s Upcoming Travel to the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hawaii. The briefing was published on the State.gov portal on Dec 8.

ECONOMIC FRAMEWORK

On the economy, discussions will be held on the administration’s Indo-Pacific economic framework, which will enhance economic cooperation with Indo-Pacific nations across a variety of issues, including trade facilitation, the digital economy, supply chain resiliency, infrastructure, decarbonization and clean energy, and workers’ standards.

On people-to-people ties, in addition to highlighting the 25.5 million funding support for the Billion Futures initiative to promote programs on education, English-language learning, and gender equality and equity, which Biden announced at the October 2020 – 2021 ASEAN Summit, plans are to reaffirm the United States and Indonesia’s ongoing commitment and support of educational exchanges and cooperation on teaching and training through the signing of an education cooperation MOU. This MOU would also facilitate renewing our Fulbright agreement that suffered as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.

In each country, the US will reiterate the importance of holding the Burmese military regime to account for its crimes and seeking to restore Burma’s path to democracy.

The importance of further efforts to address the climate crisis through strong action this decade, including accelerating the energy transition, reversing forest loss, and increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change in the region, is also on the heavily-charged agenda.

“As the President said at the recent U.S.-ASEAN Summit, the relationship between the United States and ASEAN is vital for the future of all 1 billion of our people.  President Biden is committed to elevating U.S.-ASEAN engagement to unprecedented levels, expanding our formal engagement and cooperation via new ministerial-level meetings on climate and environment, energy, health, transportation, and gender equality and women’s empowerment.  We strongly support ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.  ASEAN’s success is our success and vice versa.  ASEAN sits at the centre of the region’s architecture, and these three countries are three of the most active and influential members in ASEAN,” says Kritenbrink.

DEMOCRACY

Kritenbrink says Blinken’s visit will come on the heels of the Summit for Democracy, which began on Dec 9.  Throughout his visit, Blinken will not only engage with civil society leaders but will also press his counterparts to strengthen existing democratic institutions and protections.

More specifically on the schedule, in Indonesia, Blinken will meet with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Health Minister Budi Sadikin, Education Minister Nadiem Makarim, and other senior officials to reaffirm the strong U.S.-Indonesian strategic partnership and the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region to our two countries. 

They will also discuss responses to COVID-19 and the climate crisis as well as expanding cooperation in areas such as maritime cooperation, global health, education, and the digital economy.  The Secretary will also express our support for Indonesia’s chairmanship of the G20 in 2022.

In Malaysia, Blinken will meet with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah to discuss peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific as well as our strong bilateral relationship and comprehensive partnership rooted in robust security, economic, and people-to-people ties. 

“While in Kuala Lumpur, the Secretary will also hold a hybrid virtual and in-person town hall with Malaysian alumni of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, or YSEALI, and he will also meet with members of the U.S. embassy community,” says Kritenbrink.

In Thailand, he will reaffirm our treaty alliance with Thailand.  He will advance climate policies and also discuss steps to achieve a sustainable post-pandemic economic recovery. 

“The Secretary will reiterate our support for Thailand’s upcoming 2022 APEC host year and discuss how we can advance our shared priorities in that context.  In meetings with Prime Minister Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don, the Secretary will highlight our shared principles, including the protection of human rights and revitalization of democracy at home and abroad. 

“The Secretary will also meet with Minister of Environment Varawut to discuss cooperation on leveraging new technologies that harness clean energy.

“I’m confident this will be a tremendously successful and productive visit that’ll underscore the U.S. commitment to ASEAN’s centrality and our ongoing collaboration with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific so as to strengthen the regional architecture that has benefited us all,” says Kritenbrink.

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