The United States will work with allies and partners to bolster security in the Indo-Pacific and ensure it remains open and accessible, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a speech Tuesday in Indonesia, citing calls from across the region for China's assertive behavior to be addressed.
"We all have a stake in ensuring that the world's most dynamic region is free from coercion and accessible to all," Blinken said, pointing to Beijing's concerning actions including engaging in economic practices considered to be unfair and taking punitive economic action against countries with which it disagrees.
"Countries across the region want this behavior to change. We do, too," he said in the speech delivered in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
The top U.S. diplomat also criticized Beijing's maritime assertiveness in the South China Sea -- a strategic waterway through which more than one-third of global trade passes -- saying it threatens the movement of more than $3 trillion worth of commerce annually.
Having rapidly built artificial islets with military infrastructure, Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea. Its territorial claims there overlap with four of the 10 members that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- as well as Taiwan.
Touching on a 2016 international tribunal ruling that rejected China's "unlawful" maritime claims as inconsistent with international law, Blinken said, "We and other countries, including South China Sea claimants, will continue to push back on such behavior."
In the defense realm, Blinken said the United States will adopt an "integrated deterrence" strategy that "more closely weaves together all our instruments of national power -- diplomacy, military, intelligence -- with those of our allies and our partners."
Blinken emphasized the United States has no desire to spark conflict in the Indo-Pacific and that is why it is trying to manage the increasing competition with China while pursuing diplomacy with North Korea to address its nuclear threat.
"It's not about a contest between a U.S.-centric region or a China-centric region. The Indo-Pacific is its own region," the secretary of state said.
The Chinese Communist-led government urged the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden not to seek a "new Cold War" and force other countries to choose whether they should side with Beijing or Washington.
"The practice of the United States in stirring up separatism and estrangement and inciting confrontation is unpopular in the world and even in the Asia-Pacific region," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing.
Blinken is in Indonesia on the first leg of his trip to Southeast Asia, a region with which the United States seeks closer engagement amid its intensifying rivalry with China.
He will also travel to Malaysia and Thailand, which along with Indonesia, are the "essential components" of the Biden administration's Indo-Pacific strategy, according to a senior State Department official.