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Blinken on south-east Asia tour assures allies and urges China to restrain itself

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Photo: @SecBlinken/Twitter)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a visit to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, has urged Beijing to restrain its aggressive actions in the region. In Indonesia, his first stop, Blinken said that the US would work with allies and partners to "defend the rules-based order" and that countries in Asia-Pacific should have the freedom to choose their own path.

In his first visit to the region after Joe Biden took over in January this year, Blinken is making efforts to reset the ties that had been weakened during former US president Donald Trump's time as the US had withdrawn from global affairs.

In Indonesia, Blinken said: "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".

Baladas Ghoshal, former Professor and Chair in South & Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, told India Narrative that the US is announcing to the world that it is not retreating from world affairs. Ghoshal said: "It is a visit about reassuring its allies in south-east Asia. At the same time, the US also wants to understand the thinking in the region. Washington would like to know what is the ground reality in these countries before it makes a plan for the region".

In his interactions in Indonesia, Blinken said: "We'll work with our allies and partners to defend the rules-based order that we've built together over decades to ensure the region remains open and accessible".

He explained the "rules-based order". Clearly hinting at China, Blinken said that defending the rules-based order is "not to keep any country down. Rather, it's to protect the right of all countries to choose their own path, free from coercion and intimidation."

Ghoshal told India Narrative: "There has been a certain amount of distrust against China among the ASEAN countries. They also want to see whether the US will go till the last mile to confront China and support them against it."

It is because of this distrust, and also because the south-east Asian economies are deeply entwined with China, that these nations want reliability from the US. "The economic stakes are so high with China that south-east Asia wants assured supply chains related to connectivity and infrastructure from the US and also its allies".

The south-east Asian region has seen bullying tactics from China, where the communist regime has tried to take over the entire South China Sea (SCS) in the face of international conventions and UN conventions.

China has been repeatedly staking claims to the democratically-held Taiwan, which it regards as a part of its own territory. The top leadership in Beijing has threatened to take over the country which lies just 180 kms to its east.

It is with this backdrop that Blinken is on a three-nation visit to reassure, reengage and rebuild frayed ties with the region.