Top US envoy for East Asia visiting four South-East Asian nations

The top US diplomat for East Asia is visiting Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand from the weekend after President Joe Biden pledged stepped-up engagement with South-East Asia.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, is in the region until Dec 4, a State Department statement said.

Kritenbrink would “reaffirm the US commitment to work together... to tackle the most serious global and regional challenges” and stress US support for “a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific,” it said.

Kritenbrink will discuss human rights “challenges,” seek to bolster cooperation on climate change and discuss ways to pressure Myanmar’s military government to cease violence and allow unhindered humanitarian access, the statement said.

He will also discuss how to strengthen economic relationships and “build back better” from the Covid-19 pandemic, it said.

Biden joined leaders of Asean in a virtual summit last month, the first time in four years Washington had engaged at the top level with the bloc.

He pledged to stand with Asean in defending freedom of the seas and democracy, and said Washington would start talks on developing a regional economic framework, something critics say his Asia strategy has lacked since his predecessor Donald Trump quit a regional trade pact.

An Asian diplomat said regional countries were still awaiting details of this plan, recognising Biden’s focus on rebuilding domestic economic strength was a limiting factor.

Daniel Russel, a predecessor of Kritenbrink in the Barack Obama administration, said a key question for Asean was “whether the United States truly has a viable economic strategy” for the region. — Reuters

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