By Seima Oki, Yomiuri Shimbun correspondent
SINGAPORE — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who celebrated his hundredth day in office since assuming his post in April, is boosting his presence in Asia . Pompeo played a key role in realizing the historic summit between the U.S. and North Korea in June, and recently put forward a series of concrete ideas for the “Indo-Pacific strategy,” on which the Trump administration places priority. This move was aimed at promoting the strategy among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where China has been expanding its influence.
Pompeo held a press conference on Aug. 4 in Singapore, where the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings were being held. He said the discussions at the meeting “primarily focused on security” and announced that the U.S. will invest some $300 million (roughly 33 billion yen) to bolster security ties in the Indo-Pacific region.
The concept of the “Indo-Pacific strategy” was devised by former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last year. It comprehensively looks at the region straddling the Indian and Pacific oceans and is based on the idea of strengthening ties with Japan, Australia, and India, which are democratic countries in the region. It also places importance on the ASEAN member countries, on whom China’s influence is growing.
During the Aug. 4 news conference, Pompeo explained that the $300 million will be invested in three areas: (1) maritime security, (2) humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping capabilities, (3) and anti-terrorism measures. He underscored that “the U.S. will advance regional security and continue to build a fair and reciprocal economic relationship.”
At the end of July, Pompeo also unveiled a plan by the U.S. to establish a fund worth $113 million (approximately 12.6 billion yen) to support infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region. A diplomatic source in Washington D.C. says: “The past U.S. strategies for the Indo-Pacific region lacked specifics and did not resonate with the ASEAN member countries. By clearly indicating the size of its intended investment and concrete measures, the U.S. has facilitated understanding that it is serious.”
Pompeo is conscious of the presence of China, which is ramping up its influence in the Indo-Pacific region day by day. He said, “I raised concerns about China’s militarization in the South China Sea and the importance of maintaining order based on rules,” describing this as an achievement of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings. He directly expressed the U.S.’s concerns during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart on Aug. 3.
One of Pompeo’s strong points is that President Trump places great trust in him. An official of the U.S. Department of State says, “Spirits are higher at the department than they were under the former secretary of state, who wasn’t as close to the President.” Attention will be focused on whether Pompeo can achieve results in North Korea’s denuclearization, Washington’s biggest diplomatic challenge.