Vital Indo-Pacific is ‘open, secure’: Kamala Harris in Jakarta

United States Vice President Kamala Harris said Wednesday in Jakarta that an “open, interconnected, prosperous and secure” Indo-Pacific is of “vital interest” to her country, as Washington and Beijing push for influence in the region.

“We share our commitment to international rules and order,” Harris said during her opening speech at the meeting between the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), at the bloc’s summit being held until Thursday in Jakarta.

Harris arrived in the Indonesian capital on Tuesday night on behalf of US President Joe Biden, whose absence has raised questions about Washington’s interest in the region.

“The United States has an enduring commitment to Southeast Asia and more broadly, to the Indo-Pacific,” Harris said. “We are proud Pacific power and the American people have a profound stake in the future of the Indo-Pacific. We share historic bonds and common values with many of the people and nations here.”

The vice president added that US-ASEAN alliances and partnerships “support the security and prosperity” of both and that economic cooperation between the two “represents a huge opportunity for growth for both our markets.”

The US’ defense and deterrence commitments and presence in the Indo-Pacific, she said, “help protect our homeland and ensure regional stability,” and she also asserted that “ASEAN is at the center of America’s commitments to the Indo-Pacific.”

Shortly before her speech, China’s Premier Li Qiang had warned in Jakarta against “bloc policies” and a “Cold War” mentality, in an indirect allusion to the US, which he has accused of trying to divide the region.

Biden’s absence from the summit has also been interpreted as a possible sign that the US is prioritizing the fostering of bilateral relations with specific countries, such as Vietnam, to which the leader will travel on Sunday, rather than with the bloc.

Formed in 1967, ASEAN is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Harris also said that Washington “will continue to press the (Myanmar military) regime to end the horrific violence, to release those unjustly detained and to re-establish Myanmar’s path to inclusive democracy.”

Myanmar is mired in crises including an escalation of a decades-long conflict between ethnic militias and the military, with the emergence of new factions after the coup d’état of Feb. 1, 2021.

By Nadeem Faisal Baiga