JAKARTA (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State John Kerry met leaders from the Asia Pacific region in Indonesia on Monday, seeking more help in the US-led effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in the Middle East.
In a one-day stop in Jakarta for the inauguration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Kerry scheduled bilateral meetings with the new leader of the world's largest Muslim population, the prime ministers of neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, the Sultan of Brunei, Australia's prime minister and the foreign minister of the Philippines.
Senior officials of the US State Department said the talks would touch on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where China's increasing assertiveness is a worry to the United States and its Asian allies and partners, the fight to contain Ebola, and a Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership under negotiation.
But they said the priority would be to seek more help in the US-led fight against ISIS.
Kerry praised Malaysia's strong condemnation of the ISIS movement and discussed with the country's prime minister, Najib Razak, the need for the international community to do more to crack down on foreign fighters, a senior State Department official said.
Kerry hailed Australia's active support for the campaign against Islamic State, which has included launching air strikes against militants. "We couldn't have a stronger partner and we are very, very grateful for Australia's consistent willingness to step up and stand for values, as well as interests, that are important to us," Kerry said.
Australia's experience with domestic militants joining Islamic State, "brings home to everybody how important it is to be a global coalition and for all of us to understand the stakes," he said.
Earlier, US officials said Kerry's discussions in Jakarta would cover ways to block ISIS's recruitment of fighters from Southeast Asia, preventing the return of hardened fighters to the region, and blocking militant financing.
Kerry was due to meet Widodo later on Monday.
Indonesian crackdowns after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and an attack on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali the following year have weakened and dispersed militants at home. But a growing number of them have left the country, and Malaysia, to join ISIS.
A US official said Kerry would urge Widodo to do more to freeze the assets of militants in line with UN Financial Action Task Force requirements. "They've made some progress on that," he said. "The hope is that they will make more and it's part of an ongoing effort ... to encourage the Indonesians to do all they need to do to meet their obligations under the UN."
Kerry will urge Widodo to maintain the active role in regional foreign policy pursued by the previous Indonesian administration, amid concern that the new president may be more inward-looking given his preoccupation with domestic agendas. "As the world's fourth-largest country, the third-largest democracy and largest Muslim majority nation, (Indonesia's) role is hugely important," the second official said. "What we see in the region is a pretty steady calling for Indonesia to remain active in foreign affairs," he said. "He can do a lot on domestic (policy) and still keep Indonesia active in the region." The United States has particularly valued Indonesia's influential role in the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Washington sees as a key partner in its effort to maintain influence in the Asia-Pacific in the face of a rising China.
Kerry's visit comes ahead of an East Asia Summit in Myanmar next month and of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum in Beijing.
Before heading to Indonesia, Kerry hosted two days of talks in his native Boston with China's top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, to warm the mood for a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama after APEC.
Both sides stressed the need to manage differences and co-operate against global threats including ISIS.