Washington: The US is looking at partnerships and not dominance in the Indo-Pacific, secretary of state Mike Pompeo said as he unveiled $113 million of developmental initiatives to advance a free and open region.
The announcement comes at a time when the US and China are locked in a trade war. The Trump administration strategy to build influence with a regional grouping identified as the “Indo-Pacific", which includes the US west coast, Southeast Asian nations and India, is seen as a response to China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.
Pompeo, however, denied that the Trump administration’s developmental initiatives were aimed at countering China.
“We’re convinced that American engagement in the Indo-Pacific benefits all the nations in that region. We want it to be free, we want it to be open. We’re not looking for dominance. We’re looking for partnerships. Others choose to behave differently. We want these to be commercially available projects led by the American private sector in a way that benefits the entire region and the world," Pompeo told CNBC in an interview.
Responding to a question on countries that have been part of the Belt and Road initiative, Pompeo said some of these countries find themselves in a place they are not happy about. “I think the others are beginning to see that as well," he said.
While US President Donald Trump has frequently referred to China as a top economic competitor, Pompeo avoided calling China out by name in his remarks. However, Pompeo sought to frame US companies as the better partners for countries seeking foreign investment.
“We want private industry with the assistance of the United States government, understanding that we’re going to support this effort, we’re going to have private industry go in and develop relationships. When American businesses come to these countries, they’ll thrive," Pompeo said.
Earlier in the day, Pompeo launched the economic and commercial pillars of the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
Addressing top US business leaders and foreign dignitaries at the US Chamber of Commerce, he emphasised the critical role of the US private sector in ensuring a sustainable, financially responsible economic future for the Indo-Pacific.
He launched new initiatives to accelerate US private investment and support job-creating US export opportunities in the areas of digital economy, infrastructure, and energy.
He also reaffirmed the administration’s support for the Better Utilisation of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act, which would more than double the US government’s development-finance capacity, to $60 billion, to support US private investment in strategic opportunities abroad.
At the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, Pompeo announced $113.5 million in new US economic initiatives to support foundational areas of the future: digital economy, energy, and infrastructure.
“This represents a strategic investment in deeper engagement with the Indo-Pacific while growing our own economy and creating jobs at home," the State Department said.
Through the digital connectivity and cybersecurity partnership, the US will improve partner countries’ digital connectivity and expand opportunities for US technology exports.
In addition to establishing public-private partnerships to build digital infrastructure, this initiative will deploy technical assistance to improve partner countries’ regulatory policies and cybersecurity.
Further Asia EDGE or Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy will strengthen energy security and promote energy access across the Indo-Pacific.
The initiative will grow foreign energy markets and boost US energy exports by expanding public-private partnerships, fostering business-to-business connections, and helping partner governments set market-based energy policies.
Asia EDGE will also catalyze private capital by partnering with firms and international financial institutions on pooled finance, insurance and risk mitigation, commercial advocacy, and project development, the State Department said.
Pompeo also announced strengthened support for important regional institutions in the Indo-Pacific, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and US-ASEAN Connect, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the Lower Mekong Initiative, along with a first-ever contribution to the Indian Ocean Rim Association.