HANOI, VIETNAM – There are two parts of Secretary of Defense James Mattis' trip to the Far East this week to woo Russian and Chinese countries: charm and weapons.
While President Donald Trump speaks (and tweets) about a foreign policy of "America First" that will have us "winning" again, it is up to officials like Mattis to convince countries to lean towards the United States and move away from its neighbor China and the ever-present Russian arms manufacturer.
Then starters, Mattis has been smiling, a lot. In the recently concluded Indonesian balance of this trip, he continued to smile during a demonstration by Indonesian troops that included both snake blood and men who were repelling from helicopters with German shepherds strapped to their chests. And he smiled later when he left Indonesia with a preliminary agreement to sell 48 F-16 fighter jets, the largest Muslim nation in the world.
It landed in Vietnam on Wednesday with a similar challenge, this time appearing a day after Russia's defense minister made his best pitch for Russian weapons in Hanoi. The moment makes Mattis something like a de facto Secretary of State.
"What we are looking for here is that the small nations receive the same respect, the same respect as the great nations," said Mattis, describing the trip to reporters earlier on the flight from Washington aboard his plane E4- B, which is equipped to carry out a nuclear war and affectionately known as the "final judgment plane". "Every country matters, and there can be no intimidation or destruction of others." 19659002] Washington is concerned that China, in the midst of an appropriation of land for each rock in the South China Sea, will come to dominate the smaller countries bordering that body of water, and that Russia will become its distributor. weapons of choice. 19659002] "It will fill gaps if the US is not there," said Assistant Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, Joe Felter, who joined Mattis on the trip. "We consider China and Russia as competitors, and certainly some of Your actions should give these countries cause for concern."
US Officials described Indonesia as buying partners, part of a long-standing strategy to buy arms from a number of countries to prevent Indonesia from engaging with any. But officials are working hard to close a large combat purchase, an agreement they believe could cover up to 48 aircraft valued at $ 4.5 billion. Vietnam is also talking about more weapons, although officials said there were no major agreements nearing completion.
Mattis' trip comes as Trump has attempted to increase US arms sales to help offset trade deficits and boost the US economy. UU His plan includes changing US export rules to facilitate sale to foreign countries, and an aggressive sales argument abroad to buy from the United States, which is already the world's largest arms exporter.
The Obama administration had embarked on its own reform of the arms export system as part of a "pivot to the Pacific," but concerns over human rights abuses slowed some sales. The Trump administration made its own pivot, exporting bombs to Saudi Arabia, for example, after the Obama team stopped delivery due to civilian casualties in Yemen.
Trump also pulled the United States out of the Trans Pacific Association, an era of Obama deal that could have driven the smaller economies of East Asia. Supporters of the pact said that easier trade with the US. UU It would give more independence from China to the smaller nations of the Pacific Rim. Trump moved to withdraw from the agreement less than a week into his presidency in early 2017.
Other countries in the deal reacted angrily to Trump's decision.
"The United States is not an island," then New Zealand's first-Zeke Minister John Key said. "He can not just sit there and say he's not going to trade with the rest of the world."
Individual trade pacts are pending, but Trump's National Security Strategy, published in December, indicates that the administration wants to refocus in East Asia. The policy statement focuses mainly on competition with China and Russia and describes the need to work closely with the region's allies to foster economic ties to counter China's growth.
Hence the journey of Mattis.
"That's a document, that's a paper," Felter told reporters. "Secretary Mattis, the Secretary of Defense of the United States, traveling to Indonesia and Vietnam, leaving Indonesia and Vietnam demonstrates that priority."
Beyond discussions of joint military training and arms sales, Felter said Mattis' overall goal was to show nations that the United States remains committed to its place as the world's last superpower, despite the rhetoric of Trump "America first".
"What they want is to make sure that the Indo-Pacific region is a priority for the United States," he said. He said. "That we are present in the region, that we do not intend to retire."
American leadership is considered vital in the region, partly because countries are concerned about China's aggressive efforts to build tracks and military installations in several shallows disputed in the South China Sea, part of China is trying to reclaim the as much territory as possible in a maritime zone where approximately one third of the world cargo transits, according to some estimates.
At the beginning of the trip, Mattis said he was confident that Indonesia would want to work closely with the US. UU
"Indonesia He has his own interests and his own relationships, "he told reporters. "I think when two countries are democracies they share a lot in common right away, we are a democracy, Indonesia is a democracy, and I think it is a solid foundation for our relationship."
Vietnam, which has more than 1,000 miles of coastline in the South China Sea, is particularly economically dependent on the body of water and supports the efforts of the US. UU to guarantee free movement.
"That's the reality of geography, you do not have to be a Rhodes Scholar to realize it," said Mattis, who landed there on Wednesday.
He added that he planned to thank the government of Vietnam for helping to maintain sanctions against North Korea, with Vietnam rejecting cheap coal shipments that could help boost its booming economy.
Mattis arrived in Vietnam a day after Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu left the country after spending his visit praising the power of Russian weapons that have been tested in Syria as part of the Russian campaign to support President Bashar. Assad against rebel groups.
Shoygu spoke about long-standing ties between Russia and Vietnam, dating back to Russia's support of North Vietnam against the US military during the Vietnam War.
Indonesia also buys a large amount of military equipment from Russia, with the largest comp The cause of the great F-16 combat is the Russian Su-35.
So, yes, Mattis is abroad to encourage arms sales and attract several countries closer to the US. UU., But their efforts never fail to include an offensive charm. Hence the smiles after seeing the Indonesian screen with a soldier playing with a cobra a few feet in front of him, causing visible concern among the members of his security.
Later, Mattis was still buzzing on the screen, which provided a metaphor for his trip.
"The snakes, did you see them tired?" He asked the journalists. "They are caught, the way they were whipped, a snake tires very fast."