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Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on his first visit to Southeast Asia


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on his first visit to Southeast Asia. It's part of the Biden administration's effort to counter China's assertiveness in the region. In Indonesia, the secretary of state reiterated the U.S. commitment to a, quote, "free and open Indo-Pacific." Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: In a speech at the University of Indonesia, Blinken elaborated on what the administration believes a free and open Indo-Pacific actually means.


ANTONY BLINKEN: We mean that, on an individual level, that people will be free in their daily lives and live in open societies, that individual countries will be able to choose their own path, that in this part of the world, problems will be dealt with openly. Goods and ideas and people will flow freely across land, cyberspace and the open seas.

SULLIVAN: The open seas, including a major source of contention between the U.S. and China - the South China Sea, most of which China claims as its own. Beijing's aggressive actions there, Blinken said, threatened the movement of more than $3 trillion worth of commerce each year.


BLINKEN: Five years ago, an international tribunal delivered a unanimous and legally binding decision, firmly rejecting unlawful expansive South China Sea maritime claims as being inconsistent with international law. We and other countries, including South China Sea claimants, will continue to push back on such behavior.

SULLIVAN: He also spoke of forging closer ties with treaty partners and others in the region, some of whom, in Southeast Asia in particular, have felt ignored by the U.S. in recent years, even as China's influence has grown. He spoke of deepening the relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, and about the deteriorating security situation in Myanmar, or Burma, where the military seized power in February.


BLINKEN: We'll continue to work with our allies and partners to press the regime to cease its indiscriminate violence, release all those unjustly detained and restore Burma's path to inclusive democracy, a goal we will not give up on.

SULLIVAN: Blinken said the U.S. will adopt a strategy weaving together all its instruments of power, military and diplomatic, with those of its allies and partners to help keep the peace. He insisted this effort isn't about keeping one country down, but protecting the rights of all. Malaysia and Thailand are the final stops on Blinken's Southeast Asia tour.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.
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