US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's swing through South-east Asia last week, including his presence at Asean-related meetings in Singapore, helps lend more than optical balance to America's Asia policy that, by necessity, had been overly focused on North Korea during the first half of the year. Starting in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Pompeo, on his first trip to the region in his current position, spent two productive days in Singapore before moving on to Jakarta for meetings with President Joko Widodo and Mr Pompeo's counterpart, Ms Retno Marsudi. His crowded calendar here included meetings with, aside from Singapore's leadership, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his counterparts from South Korea, Japan and Australia.
The headlines from Mr Pompeo's swing focused greatly on the US$300 million (S$410 million) in security assistance he announced for the Indo-Pacific region, which follows his pre-trip launch of the Indo-Pacific Forum economic and development initiative in Washington. Almost all of it is for Foreign Military Financing to strengthen maritime security, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and peacekeeping capabilities. Though not large - and Mr Wang did scoff at its size - the funding covers a swathe of countries from Bangladesh to the Pacific Islands. It adds to evidence that the US may indeed have embarked on a whole-of-government approach to the Indo-Pacific.