United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region on Monday, taking aim at China ahead of a trip to South-East Asia to promote America’s strategic vision for Asia.
Mr Pompeo will depart later this week on a trip to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia to hammer home the Trump administration’s commitment to the region, and also press for denuclearisation in North Korea.
The trip comes at a time of tension with Beijing over its moves to assert sovereignty over disputed areas of the South China Sea, which Mr Pompeo alluded to in a speech in Washington to business leaders from the region.
“When we say ‘free’ Indo-Pacific, it means we all want all nations, every nation, to be able to protect their sovereignty from coercion by other countries,” he said, adding that it also meant good governance to protect citizens’ rights.
“When we say ‘open’ in the Indo-Pacific, it means we want all nations to enjoy open access to seas and airways. We want the peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes,” heo said.
The State Department said Mr Pompeo will expand on the “free and open” theme at an annual meeting in Singapore with foreign ministers from the Association of South-East Asian Nations.
His first stop on the August 1-5 trip will be in Malaysia, where a historic opposition victory in May elections returned former prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad to power and resulted in the release of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim from prison.
The 92-year-old Mahathir has promised to turn over the reins to Anwar within two years.
Citing “our strongly shared democratic values,” the State Department said Mr Pompeo will hold talks with senior Malaysian government officials on security and economic interests during the visit to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday and Friday.
From Kuala Lumpur, Mr Pompeo will travel to Singapore for the Asean meeting, set for Friday and Saturday.
“The secretary will discuss our shared commitment to the final, fully verified denuclearisation of the DPRK, upholding the rules-based order in the South China Sea, and countering terrorism,” the State Department said.
It did not say whether he will meet with his North Korean counterpart to discuss the implementation of the commitments president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made at their June 12 summit.
His last stop will be in Jakarta, where he will seek to “reinforce the US-Indonesia Strategic Partnership as we look ahead to celebrating 70 years of bilateral diplomatic relations in 2019,” the State Department said.