US announces US$300 million to fund security cooperation in Indo-Pacific region

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled the figure to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and other officials from around the world in Singapore.

SINGAPORE - United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday (Aug 4) announced US$300 million (S$409 million) in funding for security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, on the back of America's US$113 million economic initiatives unveiled earlier in the week.

Mr Pompeo, who is in Singapore for Asean-related meetings this week, said: "As part of our commitment to advancing regional security in the Indo-Pacific, the US is excited to announce US$300 million in new funding to reinforce security cooperation throughout the entire region."

This new security assistance will advance shared priorities, he said, particularly in maritime security, humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping capabilities, and countering transnational threats.

"Throughout my Asean engagement I've conveyed President Trump's commitment to this vital part of the role that continues to grow in importance," he said at a press conference.

Mr Pompeo had earlier said the US$113 million investment for technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives was "a downpayment on a new era of US economic commitment to the region".

Part of this US$113 million includes US$10 million in funding to support economic programming, much of which will fall under the US-Asean Connect programme.

Addressing this initiative again at the press conference on Saturday, he said: "Economically, President Trump recognises the long-term strategic importance of one of the world's most competitive regions. The Indo-Pacific has been and will be a major engine of economic growth."

The US "seeks partnership, not dominance", he said as he made the case for US businesses' engagement in the region being crucial to America's mission of peace, stability and prosperity.

The Trump administration is working with Congress to encourage the passage of a Bill, in the US Senate, that will more than double the US government's development finance capacity to US$60 billion to support US prime investment strategic opportunities abroad.

"These initiatives are strategic investments designed to spur our partners' engagement with American companies, the greatest force for prosperity in the world," said Mr Pompeo.

Turning to security challenges and regional issues, Mr Pompeo said he had pressed his Asean counterparts to maintain diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to achieve denuclearisaton.

He also raised concerns about the Chinese militarisation of the South China Sea and the importance of a rules-based order in the region, and discussed advancing cooperation on cybersecurity and counter-terrorism, including addressing the threat of terrorist fighters returning to the region.

The US also "addressed important steps to resolve the humanitarian crisis in the Rakhine state", while it supported Myanmar's ongoing democratisation transition, said Mr Pompeo.

"The progress of these and other critical security issues is essential to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Asean will remain at the centre of this effort," he said.

"Regarding the issue of good governance, we regret the election in Cambodia were neither free nor fair. The Cambodian people deserve better," he said.

But precisely what Asean centrality would mean in practice, Mr Pompeo said in response to a question later, "will be up to each of the Asean countries, to see how they will choose to participate".

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China welcomes both the US$300 million and US$113 million security and economic programmes, when asked about it at his own press conference hours later.

"If the US wants to help with regional countries for faster development and enhanced security, I think these moves are to be welcomed," he told reporters.

"China as a developing country has been doing what it can in providing support and help. If the US so wishes, we would be willing to work with the US towards the same end," he said.

But the Chinese top diplomat could not resist a dig at the US, saying: "The US is the sole superpower in today's world, with a GDP totalling US$16 trillion. So when I first heard this figure of US$113 million I thought I heard wrong. At least it should be 10 times higher, for a superpower with US$16 trillion of GDP."

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