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1/5 U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets on Monday with Indonesia President Joko Wikodo...


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets on Monday with Indonesia President Joko Wikodo on his first trip to Southeast Asia as the top American diplomat. Photo courtesy Antony Blinken/Twitter

Dec. 13 (UPI) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his first trip to Southeast Asia Monday to meet with the president of Indonesia, a sign that U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is committed to working with nations in the region amid growing influence from China.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that Blinken “expressed support for Indonesia’s leadership in the Indo-Pacific as the world’s third-largest democracy.”

With a population of 275 million, Indonesia trails only India and the United States in size for countries with democratic government systems.
“Pleased to meet with Indonesian President Joko Widodo today to discuss how the United States and Indonesia can work together to preserve security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,” Blinken tweeted after the meeting.

Blinken also asserted that the United States supports ASEAN centrality, a term often used to encourage cooperation between member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
According to Indian think-tank Observer Research Foundation, discussions around the term have grown because of “differences over China, particularly Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.”

“They also discussed bilateral and regional cooperation to address challenges to democracy and human rights, as well as the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Price said.

In a tweet before the meeting, Price said that Blinken would also discuss “strengthening democracy, bolstering trade and economic ties, defending freedom of navigation, and collaborating in cybersecurity with Indonesia.”
Chen Weihua, a correspondent for the Chinese state newspaper China Daily, responded to Price’s tweet with a warning.
“Just remember: Don’t try to drive a wedge between countries in the region and don’t force countries to choose side,” Weihua wrote.
Before Blinken’s meeting, China Daily ran an editorial targeting the meeting of the G7 in Britain over the weekend to which representatives from ASEAN were invited to participate remotely by video.
In the editorial, Beijing alleged that the G7 meeting “would have been dedicated solely to targeting China” if not for rising U.S. concerns conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
In another editorial, China Daily accused U.S. officials of “bullying” in the South China Sea.
Blinken also will visit Malaysia and Thailand on his Asian trip before meeting with INDOPACOM Commander Adm. John Aquilino on Friday.
“In Thailand, Secretary Blinken will reaffirm the U.S.commitment to the U.S.-Thailand treaty alliance, working toward post-pandemic economic recovery, and addressing the climate crisis,” the State Department said in a statement.

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“In each country, Secretary Blinken will address the worsening crisis in [Myanmar]. Throughout the trip, Secretary Blinken will meet with government officials, civil society leaders, business stakeholders, and U.S. embassy personnel.”


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