The View From Asia

The real reasons for Pompeo's visit to Asia

Asia News Network writers review US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to Asia. Here are excerpts.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Bogor, Indonesia, on Oct 29, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

Jokowi eyes defence cooperation with US

Kornelius Purba

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

Less than a week after his arrival in Jakarta, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may turn into a lame duck foreign minister, along with his boss, President Donald Trump. But President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo will not underestimate Mr Trump's chances of re-election.

Neither will he squander the opportunity of Indonesia-US defence cooperation that his Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto has gained from his recent trip to Washington.

Indonesia, as well as all of Asean, needs a strong US military presence in the region, amid escalating tensions in the region, now that China has become more assertive in its claim over a large swathe of the South China Sea.

Indonesia, however, never wants to form any security alliance despite regional rivalries. Now, the guest from Washington is seemingly engaged in an impossible mission: to persuade, or more precisely, to pressure Indonesia to work closely with the US in cornering and isolating China, which is Indonesia's most important trading partner.

The mission comes as Washington's global power and influence are diminishing, in part because Mr Trump has slashed many fiscal and economic incentives, while unilaterally punishing its allies and strategic partners. In February, for example, Washington officially removed Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam from the list of developing and least-developed countries. This meant Indonesia would no longer receive special differential treatment available in the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. The policy has definitely affected Indonesia's exports to the US.

It seems to me that Mr Trump is confident he will beat his rival Joe Biden. Therefore, he has ordered Mr Pompeo to tour four countries in the Indian Ocean region to tell them to stand behind him in the face of China.

If Mr Trump loses, all the agreements and commitments reached during Mr Pompeo's visit to Jakarta could mean nothing. If he wins, Mr Biden will be preoccupied with a messy domestic situation, especially the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

US needs to be a true world leader


The Island, Sri Lanka

The United States presidential election is only a few days away. Why does Washington think Sri Lanka is so important as to be visited by no less than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at this particular juncture?

Internationally, the US has its work cut out to counter growing Chinese influence. The US and its allies are without enough surplus funds to match China's ability to grant loans or undertake development projects around the world. They are particularly troubled by a gnawing sense of insecurity vis-a-vis China's ambitious Belt and Road project.

Unable to take on China for obvious reasons, the US is turning on soft targets like Sri Lanka, which is dependent on Chinese aid, and has forged alliances with other nations to shore up its diminishing power.

How much is it willing to grant Sri Lanka by way of financial assistance without expecting anything in return other than loan repayment? Can it match what Sri Lanka receives from China as loans and grants?

The US would not have had to throw its weight around in this manner if it had conducted itself as a true world leader and tried to win over other nations instead of resorting to hostile action against them on some pretext or the other.

A Cold War recruitment drive


China Daily, China

By pressing Sri Lanka and the Maldives to be on guard against what he claimed is predatory lending and investment by China, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear what was meant by the "difficult but necessary" choice they were encouraged to consider.

He presented the US as a "friend and partner" for "transparent and sustainable economic development" in contrast to the "discriminatory and opaque practices" of China.

Ironically, it is exactly the transparent and sustainable economic development they have achieved in their mutually beneficial cooperation with China that has prompted this tireless country-hopping peddler of China threats to turn his attention to the two island nations, seeking to embroil them in discriminatory and opaque practices aimed at arresting China's rise.

Rather than being "a beacon" for freedom and democracy, the US is resorting to cash-for-sovereignty offers in its bid to get countries to make common cause against China.

In his lecturing to his two hosts, Mr Pompeo simply drove home the message that the US administration's interest in the two countries is determined by the extent to which they are willing to side with it against China.

Yet, in its bid to recruit mercenaries to build a "coalition" against China, the US administration risks miring itself and those it has enticed to gather under its banner "in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time and with the wrong enemy". Countries know this.

• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 24 news media titles.

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