United States’ East Asian and Pacific Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary W. Patrick Murphy had visited Palau last week to meet local officials and discuss bilateral relationship including the advancement of US’ Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy in which Palau is a part of.

In a roundtable discussion with the media on Friday, October 12, Deputy Assistant Secretary Murphy said that the US welcomes the idea of working with all countries that are “open and free” and adhere to the rule of law.

“We (the US) want to be viewed as a valuable, reliable, consistent partner,” Murphy said.

The US’ Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, as previously discussed by East Asian and Pacific Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex N. Wong during a press briefing on the Indo-Pacific Strategy on April 2, 2018 in Washington DC, is aimed at helping nations in the region to become “free from coercion” and become “progressively more free in terms of…good governance, in terms of fundamental rights, in terms of transparency and anti-corruption.”

In the same briefing, Wong also emphasized that through the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the US wants to “assist the region in doing infrastructure in the right way”, the kind which, as Wong puts it, “truly does drive integration and raises the GDPs of the constituent economies, not weigh them down.”

The Indo-Pacific Strategy is seen as the US’ move to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Several US officials, however, had reportedly avoided or denied linking the strategy as a move to counter China’s initiative, saying that the strategy is inclusive to all nations.

This has also been echoed by the words of Murphy who told the media in Palau that the US does not exclude any countries, big and small, in the said strategy.

China’s Belt and Road initiative is estimated to have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into ports and rail lines, among others, across Asia, Europe and Africa. With the initiative, over a hundred countries had reportedly signed agreements of cooperation with China which is reportedly intended for the purpose of establishing land and sea connections from China to the three continents. This, however, is seen by many as a debt trap, especially for countries who had resorted into excessive borrowing. Others also viewed this as China’s way of establishing dominion in the region.

According to Murphy, under the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the United States has announced pouring $113-million in the Indo-Pacific region as a mechanism to boost economy through partnership with the private sector. An addition of $300-Million was also announced by the US for the security programs in the region such as military financing, international military education and training, and maritime security, among others.

The sum of these two allocations, however, does not match China’s allocation for the Belt and Road initiative.

Murphy, however, said that the said allocations are just down payments.

“Both of these allocations are down payments. We expect to do more but let me emphasized that United States is not just throwing money to the region,” Murphy said.

“The real change is going to come from greater involvement from the private sector and we’re all about quality with our programs and resources, transparency, efficiency, partnerships where countries can work with us to produce results but not incurred debt, and not incurred projects that are lacking in quality but programs that benefit local countries,” Murphy added. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)