SINGAPORE — Lloyd J. Austin III, the American defense secretary, sought on Tuesday to reassure Southeast Asian nations that the United States was still invested in the region despite a monthslong absence by top officials in a part of the world that has been aggressively courted by China.
新加坡——週二,美國國防部長勞埃德·J·奧斯汀三世(Lloyd J. Austin III)試圖向東南亞國家保證,儘管美國高級官員在該地區已經缺席數月,但美國仍將投資這個被中國一直積極追求的地方。
Speaking at a lecture in Singapore organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British think tank, Mr. Austin said, “I’ve come to Southeast Asia to deepen America’s bonds with the allies and partners on whom our common security depends.”
在新加坡由英國智庫國際戰略研究所(International Institute for Strategic Studies)組織的一次演講中,奧斯汀說,「我來到東南亞,是為了加深美國與盟友和夥伴的關係,我們的共同安全依賴於他們。」
Mr. Austin’s visit is the first by a U.S. cabinet member to Southeast Asia since President Biden took office in January.
In Washington, there is a growing awareness that China has been cultivating Southeast Asia with visits, loans and, most recently, coronavirus vaccines.
China has doled out more than 190 million vaccines in Southeast Asia, most of them sold, according to a calculation of figures provided by Bridge Consulting, a Beijing-based research company.
During his lecture, Mr. Austin pointed out that the United States had donated roughly 40 million doses in the past two months to the region free and with “no strings attached.”
Murray Hiebert, a senior associate of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “Part of the effort here is to let the region know that the U.S. still sees it as very important — that it’s not going to lie down and let China roll over the region.”
戰略與國際研究中心(Center for Strategic and International Studies)東南亞項目(Southeast Asia Program)高級助理穆雷·希伯特(Murray Hiebert)表示:「我們的部分努力是為了讓該地區知道,美國仍然看重它——美國不會躺倒,任憑中國席捲該地區。」
“And so it’s really an attempt to play catch up after a slow start,” he added.
今年3月,美國國務卿安東尼·J·布林肯(左)與日本首相菅義偉在東京會面。布林肯不訪問東南亞的決定被一些人視為一種冷落。 Pool photo by Eugene Hoshiko
American officials have indicated that there will be renewed interest in the region, given Mr. Biden’s focus on Asia as a linchpin of his foreign policy agenda. Analysts say there could be a flurry of diplomatic efforts in the months ahead. Mr. Austin is also set to travel to the Philippines and Vietnam on his trip.
In recent months, several Southeast Asian officials have been perturbed by the lack of face-to-face engagement from their American counterparts, particularly in light of China’s ramping up its diplomatic efforts in the pandemic. (Mr. Austin was scheduled to appear in Singapore at a regional defense meeting in June, but organizers had to cancel at the last minute because of a surge in Covid-19 cases in the city-state.)
Several Southeast Asian analysts viewed Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s decision to visit Japan, India and South Korea, but not Southeast Asia, as a snub.
幾位東南亞分析人士認為,美國國務卿安東尼·J·布林肯(Antony J. Blinken)決定訪問日本、印度和韓國,而不是東南亞,是在冷落該地區。
“It seemed to reinforce the perception that Southeast Asia has always been paid lip service: that this is an important region to the Indo-Pacific, but it is, in practice, still being treated as an afterthought,” said Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore.
「這似乎強化了一種看法,即對東南亞一直都是口頭上的承諾:這是印度-太平洋地區的一個重要地區,但實際上,它仍然被視為一個事後才考慮的地區,」新加坡國防與戰略研究所(Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies)研究員許瑞麟(Collin Koh)說。
Mr. Blinken tried to hold a video conference with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in May. But the ministers were kept facing a blank screen for 45 minutes because of a technical glitch. The meeting had to be postponed and rescheduled for earlier this month.
今年5月,布林肯曾試圖與東南亞國家聯盟(Association of Southeast Asian Nations,簡稱東盟[ASEAN])舉行影片會議。但由於技術故障,部長們面對空白螢幕長達45分鐘。會議不得不推遲,並重新安排在本月初。
週一,印度尼西亞雅加達的一個疫苗接種項目。北京方面已開始努力在東南亞擴大其影響力,包括提供疫苗。 Willy Kurniawan/Reuters
For the past decade, Beijing has engaged in a massive push to extend its political and economic influence across Southeast Asia. China is now the region’s most important trading partner. Since January 2020, senior officials, including Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, have traveled to the region at least five times.
The United States has failed to introduce any large economic projects in Southeast Asia after the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement was nixed by former President Donald J. Trump. It has also excluded itself from one of the world’s biggest trade pacts, proposed by Southeast Asia: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which China has enthusiastically embraced.
在前總統唐納德·J·川普(Donald J. Trump)否決《跨太平洋夥伴關係協定》(Trans-Pacific Partnership)後,美國未能在東南亞引入任何大型經濟項目。它還將自己排除在東南亞提議的全球最大貿易協定之一——《區域全面經濟夥伴關係協定》(Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership)之外,而中國則熱情地接受了該協定。
On his most recent visit to Southeast Asia in January, the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, arrived in Indonesia with a planeload of vaccines. He offered to help build a high-speed railway linking Jakarta, the capital, and the neighboring city of Bandung, under China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
William Choong, a senior fellow specializing in the Indo-Pacific at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a research center based in Singapore, said, “They consider Southeast Asia to be an important peripheral region to China, so they have played a long game.”
新加坡研究中心東南亞尤索夫伊薩研究所(ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)印度太平洋研究高級研究員鍾偉倫(William Choong)說,「他們認為東南亞是中國的一個重要外圍地區,所以他們打了一場持久戰。」
“And they’ve upgraded their relationship with ASEAN to a new level,” he added.
Southeast Asia is home to one of the world’s most strategic waterways, the Strait of Malacca. The region also includes the many contested reefs and shoals of the South China Sea, a major pressure point between Beijing and several Southeast Asian countries. Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have all accused China of military incursions in the area.
一位菲律賓漁民今年在南海。該地區是北京和幾個東南亞國家之間的一個主要壓力點。 Jes Aznar for The New York Times
Some leaders are trying to pursue a delicate balancing act between China and the United States, wary of Beijing’s intentions in the region, yet mindful of their economic interdependence. Many of them say that they cannot afford to adopt Mr. Biden’s anti-China stance, but still look to the United States to support them in their disputes with Beijing.
Mr. Austin said Washington was “not asking countries in the region to choose between the United States and China.” He said that the United States was not seeking confrontation with China, but stressed, “We want to make sure we deter conflict in every case and every opportunity.”
Going forward, a major challenge for American officials will be curbing Chinese influence in the region, especially in countries like Philippines, a treaty ally with which China has made significant progress in recent years.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has rarely criticized China for its expansionism in the South China Sea. On Monday, during his State of the Nation address, he called himself a “good friend of President Xi.”
菲律賓總統羅德里戈·杜特蒂(Rodrigo Duterte)很少批評中國在南海的擴張主義。週一,在他的國情咨文演講中,他稱自己是「習主席的好朋友」。
“When the pandemic struck, the first country I called for help was China,” Mr. Duterte said. He recalled how he had told Mr. Xi that the Philippines had no vaccines and was unable to develop one. Mr. Xi responded by sending 1.5 million doses, he said.
2019年,中國國家主席習近平與菲律賓總統羅德里戈·杜特蒂在北京。杜特蒂稱自己是習近平的「好朋友」。 Pool photo by Greg Baker
“You cannot repay that with money, but I have a debt of gratitude,” Mr. Duterte said. “You can be sure I will be your friend. A true friend and die for you.”
On Monday, Mr. Duterte implied that he did not see the United States as a reliable partner in defending the Philippines.
Mr. Austin said on Tuesday that he planned to discuss extending the longstanding military pact between the Philippines and United States during his coming visit. The pact, which allows Washington to move troops and equipment in and out of the country, is now in limbo.
Mr. Duterte previously sought to end the treaty, but reversed himself last year, saying he would maintain it. Many analysts had interpreted the about-face as a sign that the Philippine leader was worried about China’s growing military assertiveness.