After a COVID-19 case among the press corps accompanying him, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cut short a brief trip to Southeast Asia intended at revitalising relations in a region where China’s influence has expanded.
Blinken was scheduled to meet with his Thai colleague on Thursday, but advised him that he would return to Washington “out of an abundance of caution,” according to a State Department official.
On Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Blinken and top authorities were found to be negative, but the journalist was found to be positive.
Blinken’s first trip to Southeast Asia since President Joe Biden took office in January.
The Biden administration has worked to strengthen connections with a region that had become wary of US commitment under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump’s, time of perceived neglect. At a time when Trump had withdrew from a Pacific trade treaty aimed at challenging Beijing’s economic might, China strengthened its influence in Southeast Asia, encouraging investment and commercial integration.
In a speech at an Indonesian university on Tuesday, Blinken outlined a vision for growing US infrastructure investment in the Indo-Pacific area and bolstering supply chains, as well as developing treaty alliances and extending military and intelligence partnerships with other countries.
The speech took aim at Chinese firms’ behaviour and Beijing’s “aggressive activities,” which he claimed had become a source of concern for the region. According to China’s foreign ministry, Blinken was “drawing ideological boundaries.”
On every leg of their travel, which began in the United Kingdom and finished in Kuala Lumpur, Blinken and his top staff tested negative for coronavirus.
Blinken met with Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and held a joint press conference with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah on Wednesday. The individual who tested positive was immediately quarantined, according to the Malaysian foreign ministry, and had not taken part in Blinken’s seminar in Kuala Lumpur.