Mike Pence to flesh out US' Indo-Pacific vision during Asia visit

US Vice-President Mike Pence is scheduled to travel to Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Papua New Guinea from Nov 11 to 18.
US Vice-President Mike Pence is scheduled to travel to Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Papua New Guinea from Nov 11 to 18.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - Vice-President Mike Pence will flesh out the US administration's strategy for a free and open Indo-Pacific during his visit to the region next week - his third to Asia since President Donald Trump took office.

But the region may have to wait until a key speech by Mr Pence on Nov 17 at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) CEO summit in Papua New Guinea to hear the details.

The Nov 17 address will be "a deep and broad speech that will talk both about the regional architecture and the vision of the Indo-Pacific from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean," a senior administration official told journalists in a conference call on Friday (Nov 9), ahead of Mr Pence's trip.

"It will also talk tangibly, and announce many different things, on the economic front, including some of our partnerships," the senior official said. "That question, what is the Indo Pacific, and how does it help Asia, how does it help Asean... will come into really sharp focus and answer some of the questions that are out there."

Mr Pence is scheduled to travel to Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Papua New Guinea from Nov 11 to 18.

In Japan, he and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold a joint press conference - unusual in terms of protocol as such press conferences are normally held by leaders of equal rank. Mr Pence will then represent President Trump at the US-Asean Summit and East Asia Summit (EAS) in Singapore, and the Apec meetings in Papua New Guinea.

Apart from meeting Mr Abe in Japan, Mr Pence will meet with, among others, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in the course of his trip.

National Security Advisor John Bolton will join him for the US-Asean Summit and EAS in Singapore, and Apec meetings in Papua New Guinea.

In Japan, Mr Pence will discuss regional security issues primarily in the context of China and North Korea, as well as the Indo-Pacific.

 
 

In Singapore, "we'll be talking not only more about the Indo-Pacific strategy and putting some sort of meat on the security as well as the economic portions of it, but again talking to our friends, our partners, our allies about North Korea, and about the South China Sea both openly and behind closed doors," the senior official said.

Mr Pence will talk of common work on counter terrorism, cyber security and many other aspects of cyber including smart cities.

"We are very proud to take part in and… partner up with the 26 Asean smart cities programme," the official said.

"We'll probably make an interesting and very concrete announcement on that there. We will talk about economics and in the EAS we will hit some of those very similar themes but also talk about some broader regional security issues including nuclear security."

"This will be more about what we can do for the economies of the region; how the American private sector driven model which is not a state run model… brings prosperity, not only to America but to the Indo-Pacific."

"Generally speaking one of the key tenets of President Trump's free and open Indo-Pacific concept, and of our Indo-Pacific strategy, is… the sovereignty of countries all across the region,'' he added.

"Sovereignty resides with the people of countries. The people… should have the right to know what kind of agreements their government are making with countries and creditors, there should be transparency in support of good governance and there should not be interference in the affairs of states by outside powers," he said, in an apparent reference to China's state-led and debt-heavy development model.

"The many initiatives and concrete steps that are going to be announced during the next week by our Vice-President, are in a real sense ultimately about preserving the independence, sovereignty and freedom of countries to be themselves without being subject to interference by ambitious regional powers," he added.

Of particular note may be Mr Pence's bilateral meeting in Singapore with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The US and India had common interests in the Indo-Pacific, and bilaterally "the sky is the limit" for cooperation with India, the official said.

Rejecting concerns over optics, raised by the absence of President Trump, the official said Mr Pence spends an enormous amount of time with Mr Trump.

"They have closely coordinated all the Vice-President's statements about the region including major speeches, so there should be no doubt as to the authority the Vice-President carries when he goes there," he asserted.