High-level visits to South and Southeast Asia . . .
U.S Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is touring Southeast Asia this week. His speech in Singapore on Tuesday highlighted the importance of working with allies to deter coercion, aggression, and to prevent conflict. In Vietnam on Wednesday, he pledged to remain regionally engaged militarily. On Thursday, he headed to the Philippines to discuss, among other things, the Visiting Forces Agreement, the foundation for the rotation of U.S. troops in the country. Concurrently, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken ended yesterday a two-day India visit, where he discussed various topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation in Afghanistan, and human rights. On the sidelines of his official meetings, he also met with a representative of the Dalai Lama.
Mending ties and countering China . . .
Secretary Austin’s visit to Southeast Asia demonstrates the importance of Southeast Asia to America’s Indo-Pacific strategy. But while he found willing partners in the region, the U.S. is playing catch up, as it overlooked Southeast Asia during the Trump presidency and the first months of the Biden administration. Secretary Blinken’s visit to India also highlights the importance the U.S. places on that country, which has been struggling with China over a border standoff in the Himalayas.
Balancing strategic interests and human rights concerns . . .
Both secretaries Austin and Blinken raised concerns over human rights issues. For example, U.S. defence officials said that Austin reiterated to Vietnam the Biden administration’s position that the country’s approach to human rights sets limits on the relationship. In India, Blinken warned New Delhi not to backslide further on human rights. This is happening as Beijing stresses the need to build a “more just” and “inclusive” global order with calls for “multilateralism with Asian characteristics.” While the Biden administration vowed to lead with its values, it faces a difficult balancing act in raising its concerns over human rights without alienating partners and driving them closer to a China that considers human rights a domestic issue.
- Deutsche Welle: Top US diplomat Blinken warns India over human rights record
- South China Morning Post: Relations with ASEAN are China’s priority, says foreign minister as US also courts Southeast Asia
- The New York Times: After years of Chinese influence, U.S. tries to renew ties in Southeast Asia