Secretary of Defense James Mattis, attending a meeting of ASEAN defense ministers in the Philippines, will call for unity against China as the latter rises in power and influence in Asia-Pacific region.
The ASEAN bloc has become divided as both China and the United States vie for influence in the region, and tensions have been increased as China continues to build up and fortify man-made islands in the South China Sea.
U.S. credibility has taken a hit in the Trump era, however, after the president decided to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, with many ASEAN nations now looking more towards aligning with China for economic purposes.
“ASEAN gives voice to those who want relations between states to be based on respect, and not on predatory economics or on the size of militaries,” Mattis told reporters ahead of his meetings in the Philippines, though he did not mention China by name. “The United States remains unambiguously committed to supporting ASEAN.”
Washington sees improving ties with ASEAN as an important bulwark against Beijing, which attempts to undermine the bloc by making via individual bilateral relations with member states.
Mattis also repeated an earlier call from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for the U.S. to bolster ties with India, also as a counterweight to China, giving New Dehli a larger security role in the Indo-Pacific region.
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