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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Vice President Mike Pence tours Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Friday, April 21, 2017 1:00 am

Pence assures Southeast Asia

Associated Press

Also: President meets with Italian leader

WASHINGTON – Weeks before President Donald Trump's first official overseas trip, trade and security matters were top items of discussion in his meeting Thursday with the prime minister of Italy, one of the two European countries set to welcome Trump in May.

Talks with Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni were expected to address U.S. commitments to trade and military partnerships with European allies, as well as security concerns, including the Syrian civil war and Russia's role in the conflict.

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Southeast Asia, a focus of past U.S. presidents, has been overlooked thus far for the Trump administration, but Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Indonesia on Thursday marked a sign of change and he announced the president would follow him to the region this year.

Anxious Southeast Asian governments are looking for America's commitment to counter China's rising economic and military clout. Vietnam's foreign minister is in Washington his week, and the top diplomats of the region's 10-nation bloc are expected to arrive en masse in early May, amid concerns their interests were being crowded out as President Donald Trump prioritizes Mideast counterterrorism, traditional alliances in Europe and North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.

Pence's stop in Jakarta on a 10-day swing through the Asia-Pacific, meeting with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, sends a message that Trump's interests in Asia extend beyond North Korea and the massive U.S. trade imbalance with China. It is the first to Southeast Asia by a top administration official, and Pence announced Trump will attend the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in November.

Washington is “taking steps to strengthen our partnership with ASEAN and deepen our friendship,” Pence said, resolving to strengthen economic ties and security cooperation in combating terrorism and in the disputed South China Sea.

This year marks ASEAN's 50th anniversary. November's gathering is being held in the Philippines, hosted by its outspoken president Rodrigo Duterte.