The US demonstrates a vital pivot to the Indo-Pacific region

The US demonstrates a vital pivot to the Indo-Pacific region
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Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump administration imposes sanction on Saudi diplomat over Khashoggi killing Mulvaney: 'Politics can and should influence foreign policy' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today MORE’s participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial meeting and East Asia Summit and bilateral meetings this week with Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are timely, positive developments. Secretary Pompeo’s announcement that the Trump administration would provide $113 million to support energy, infrastructure and digital efforts in Asia is a modest but important investment in a critically important region. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new and necessary pivot to the Indo-Pacific Region.

Previous administration efforts to focus on East Asia were well-intentioned but missed the mark.  Chaos in the Middle East and developments in Europe diverted much of the attention and resources away from the East Asia region. It appears that the Trump administration now is prepared to focus on the Indo-Pacific region, primarily for security and economic reasons.

Secretary Pompeo’s meeting with his ASEAN counterparts will permit a necessary discussion of the myriad of security issues affecting the region and a U.S. commitment to work with our Asian allies and partners to address these issues. High on the list will be developments with North Korea and the need for all countries to continue to enforce those sanctions imposed on North Korea, as we push for progress on Kim Jong Un’s commitment to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.  


Many of the 17 countries at this ASEAN meeting are members of the Proliferation Security Initiative, a global effort to stop trafficking of weapons of mass destruction. Also of immediate concern are developments in the South China Sea and efforts to address terrorism, narcotics trafficking, maritime piracy, cyber security and country-specific humanitarian issues.

Trade and economic issues are critically important for this region. China is the largest trading partner of ASEAN. And it is China’s Road and Belt program and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that have captured much of the attention of the region and beyond, with commitments to invest billions of dollars in loans for transport and power projects. Although the U.S. commitment of $113 million is considerably less than China’s billions of dollars, this appears to be the beginning of a U.S. commitment to invest considerable resources in the region.  Japan and Australia have responded positively, while surprisingly, China has been publicly dismissive of this recent U.S. financial commitment to the region.  

Although the U.S. decision not to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a disappointment to many of the countries in East Asia, the prospect of bilateral trade agreements with countries in the region will help to ensure that U.S. economic interests are maintained, while U.S. private companies continue to expand their presence.

The pending U.S. trade war with China is of concern to countries in the region. Current indications are that China and the United States will seek middle ground to resolve some of these trade issues. For China, a trade war with the United States would be unfortunate. China’s stock market has declined and the renminbi has been weakened since the United States announced tariffs on imports from China. Movement on the part of China to reduce ownership caps on its financial-services businesses is a good development, as is China’s plans to launch a $5 billion fund to invest in American manufacturing, infrastructure and other projects, despite trade friction with the United States.

In addition to the obvious security and economic reasons, a U.S. pivot to the Indo-Pacific Region will reinforce our commitment to the countries in the region that look to the United States for continued leadership. Having worked for decades with counterparts in this region, I know that the United States is viewed as a leader that respects the sovereignty and security of other countries and the fair treatment of its people.

One year ago, there was concern by some of these countries that the United States would be less engaged in the region. Secretary Pompeo’s meetings with ASEAN and his bilateral meetings will help to allay any such ongoing concerns. Indeed, these meetings will help to ensure that our valued allies and partners know the United States will be devoting even more time and resources to this critically important region.

Ambassador Joseph R. DeTrani was the State Department’s former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea from 2003 to 2006. He directed the National Counterproliferation Center in 2010 and was a special adviser to the director of national intelligence. He served more than two decades with the CIA and as a member of the Senior Intelligence Service. The views are the author’s and not those of any government department or agency.