US pledges nearly $300 million security funding for Southeast Asia

US Secretary of State Pompeo calls on Dr Mahathir

Malaysia Chronicle

Speaking on the same occasion, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan said ASEAN member states and China have arrived at a single draft negotiating text of COC which will be a living document and the basis of future COC negotiations.

Pompeo announced an initial US$113 million budget for Indo-Pacific development, including security assistance, on Monday, before he left for his five-day Asia trip.

ASEAN might also sign an e-commerce agreement among its member states to facilitate digitalisation of trade procedures, and Singapore plans to upgrade three ASEAN integration centres in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to share capacity-building knowledge.

The ministers "took note of the concerns expressed by some countries on the land reclamations in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region", the draft communique said, without naming China and reflecting the internal divisions over the touchy issue.

The US and China are competing for influence in Indo-Pacific, a term that gained ground when US President Donald Trump used it on his tour of Asia previous year.

He is expected to meet his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, and foreign ministers of other countries on the sidelines of the forum.

The Philippines is one example of a country which has taken a more conciliatory approach to China despite a bitter history of disputes over maritime sovereignty.

The use of "Indo-Pacific" has grown among diplomats from Japan, Australia, India and the USA in recent years, a shorthand for a democratic-led region, as opposed to an "Asia-Pacific" with China at its centre. "It convenes the region's key forums. and has a unique capacity for collective action". "We remain committed to promoting Asean's primacy in the regional architecture".

In Singapore, an East Asia Summit foreign ministers' meeting, including ASEAN members and eight non-ASEAN partners, was held later Saturday. "It's important that ASEAN continues to support the multilateral system and work with like-minded partners to deepen our web of cooperation", said Lee.

And Datuk Saifuddin said he looked forward to working with the USA to bring this to a higher trajectory. He is the first senior US official to visit Malaysia since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was took office following a May election dubbed "quite historic" by a senior State Department official.

Asean solidarity was also on display, and Mr Lee started his speech by conveying his condolences to two members which saw recent disasters - to Laos on the collapse of the Xe Pien-Xe Namnoy hydroelectric dam and to Indonesia on the Lombok quake.

He will call on Indonesian President Joko Widodo tomorrow.

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