JAKARTA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Indonesia for Joko Widodo’s presidential inauguration on Monday, seeking more help from Southeast Asian leaders in the U.S.-led effort against Islamic State in the Middle East.
In a one-day stop in Jakarta, capital of a country with the world’s largest Muslim population, Kerry plans bilateral meetings with Widodo, the prime ministers of neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, the Sultan of Brunei, Australia’s prime minister and the foreign minister of the Philippines.
Senior officials of the U.S. State Department said the talks would touch on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where China’s increasing assertiveness is a worry to the United States and its Asian allies and partners, the fight to contain Ebola, and a Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership under negotiation.
But the priority would be to seek more help in the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the officials, who declined to be identified, told reporters on Kerry’s flight to Jakarta.
The discussions would cover ways to block Islamic State recruitment of fighters from Southeast Asia, preventing the return of hardened fighters to the region, and blocking militant financing, one of the officials said.
“The secretary will talk through areas where we believe and hope individual countries can do more,” he said.
While Indonesian crackdowns after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, and an attack on the holiday island of Bali the following year, have weakened and dispersed militants at home, a growing number of them have left the country, and Malaysia, to join Islamic State in the Middle East.
A second U.S. official said Kerry would urge Widodo to do more to freeze the assets of militants in line with U.N. Financial Action Task Force requirements.
“They’ve made some progress on that,” he said. “The hope is that they will make more and it’s part of an ongoing effort ...to encourage the Indonesians to do all they need to do to meet their obligations under the U.N.”
Kerry will also urge Widodo to maintain the active role in regional foreign policy pursued by the previous Indonesian administration, amid concern that the new president may be more inward-looking given his preoccupation with domestic agendas.
“As the world’s fourth largest country, the third largest democracy and largest Muslim majority nation, (Indonesia’s) role is hugely important,” the second official said.
“What we see in the region is a pretty steady calling for Indonesia to remain active in foreign affairs,” he said. “He can do a lot on domestic (policy) and still keep Indonesia active in the region.”
The United States has particularly valued Indonesia’s influential role in the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Washington sees as a key partner in its effort to maintain influence in the Asia-Pacific in the face of a rising China.
Kerry’s visit comes ahead an East Asian Summit in Myanmar next month and of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing.
Before heading to Indonesia, Kerry hosted two days of talks in his native Boston with China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, to warm the mood for a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama after APEC.
Both sides stressed the need to manage differences and cooperate against global threats including Islamic State.
Editing by Robert Birsel