US official says diplomatic efforts in Asia are paying off

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BANGKOK (AP) — The U.S. diplomatic push to counter China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region appears to be paying off, with many countries showing a willingness to partner with the United States, a senior official said Friday. State Department official.

US State Department adviser Derek Chollet told The Associated Press that it is noteworthy that 13 countries representing 40% of the global economy have signed on to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that President Joe Biden launched in Japan at the end of May. He said around the same time, China failed in its bid to get a group of Pacific islands to approve a comprehensive deal with Beijing.


China had broken away from its traditional approach of negotiating one-on-one with countries behind the scenes to send Foreign Minister Wang Yi on an island-hopping trip last month to try to rally 10 Pacific nations behind the agreement, which covered a wide range of areas such as security and fisheries.

But he was unable to find consensus on the deal at a meeting in Fiji and had to settle for small bilateral deals with some of them.

“I think the fact that the Chinese foreign minister’s trip, where they tried to roll out this very bold ‘take it or leave it’ partnership initiative or cooperation, wasn’t really well received, indicates to me that Pacific island countries want to have engagement with us,” Chollet said in an interview in Bangkok.

Chollet is in the midst of traveling to Thailand, Brunei and Singapore, while US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is traveling simultaneously to the Philippines, South Korea, Laos and Vietnam.

Additionally, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is one of the guest speakers this weekend at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s premier defense and security forum, and will travel to Thailand next week. next.

The in-person outreach is part of an approach that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in May meant putting “diplomacy back at the center of US foreign policy”.

“We are determined … to be there, to be engaged — not just as visitors to Washington, but permanently,” Chollet said.

The push in Asia comes amid growing concerns over China’s own efforts to expand its influence in the region.

Part of Beijing’s attention has been the South China Sea, where the Philippines and Vietnam, among others, have clashed with China’s efforts to dominate the strategic waterway it claims virtually in its entirety. The United States and its allies responded with so-called freedom of navigation patrols, occasionally encountering a pushback from the Chinese military.

Beijing already signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands in April, which the United States, Australia and others fear could lead to a Chinese naval base in the South Pacific. And on Wednesday, China and Cambodia inaugurated a Cambodian naval base port expansion project at Ream, which gives China a strategically important military facility in the Gulf of Thailand, although Cambodia denied it will be. the case.

In Blinken’s late May speech outlining the Biden administration’s approach to China, he said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine was a “clear and present threat,” but that China’s ambitions were an even greater challenge.

“Even if President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order – and that is the one posed by the People’s Republic of China,” he said.

Many countries in the region have strong ties with China, and Chollet said the US approach has not been to ask a nation to choose one side or the other, but to recognize their relationship with Beijing while by being frank with Washington’s concerns.

“We hear that we’re not just customers or countries that we do business with, we want to be partners, and that’s certainly the spirit in which we engage them,” he said.

At the same time, the United States also realizes the need to work with a global power like China on international issues, such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, with China and the United States being the two largest emitters. greenhouse gases, he said.

“There are parts of the relationship that are adversarial where the United States and China are fundamentally at odds, there are parts that are competitive…and there are parts of the relationship that are cooperative, or the less we expect them to be cooperative,” he said.

“It’s a narrowing range of issues unfortunately, but, for example, on climate change, it’s just mathematical that we have to be able to find a way to work together if we’re going to be successful.”

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