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“No intention” of engaging with China on Indo-Pacific Economic Framework: U.S.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Kritenbrink arrives at a roundtable with correspondents in Bangkok, Thailand, December 3, 2021. REUTERS/Kay Johnson

According to a senior US diplomat, the US has “no intention” of engaging with China in its upcoming Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, but is instead talking to partners who share the same objective of a free and open region with no coercion.

The news: Last week, the US pledged to devote greater diplomatic and security resources to the Indo-Pacific to counter what it perceives as China’s bid to establish a regional sphere of influence and become the world’s most powerful country.

  • The Biden administration claimed it will focus on every part of the area, from South Asia to the Pacific Islands, in a 12-page strategy summary, in order to improve its long-term position and commitment.
  • The document reaffirmed the United States’ plans to launch an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in early 2022, an initiative the administration hopes will at least partially fill a large gap in engagement with the region since former president Donald Trump pulled out of a multinational trade framework in 2017.

What they’re saying: On a conference call with reporters on Thursday, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink noted that early negotiations about the economic framework were still ongoing.

  • “I think it’s safe to say that we are engaged in initial conversations with partners across the region, who share our vision for the kind of region that we want to live in again, a free and open region in which countries are free from coercion and are able to pursue their economic and security interests freely in an in an unhindered fashion,” he said.
  • “And you are correct that there is currently no intention to engage the People’s Republic of China on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.”

What’s going on: President Xi Jinping has promoted China’s Belt and Road initiative, which commits billions of dollars to building infrastructure around the world.

  • China has also embraced the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world’s largest free trade grouping that excludes the United States (RCEP).
  • China and Russia announced a “no limits” strategic cooperation earlier this month, their most explicit and assertive pledge yet that they will work together – and against the US – to create a new world order based on their own conceptions of human rights and democracy.
  • According to Kritenbrink, Washington could not “dismiss the challenge” posed by China and Russia’s joint statement.
  • “We stand for a world and a vision grounded in problem solving and innovation, not coercion and aggression,” he said.
  • “That is our affirmative vision for the region. I think it stands in stark contrast to the vision of others, including that put forward by Presidents Putin and Xi.”
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