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US plans economic initiatives in Asia

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Alex Wroblewski

HONG KONG (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was set to announce a series of investment initiatives in Asia, focusing on digital economy, energy and infrastructure.

The announcement, to be made at a US Chamber of Commerce forum in Washington, comes at a time when trade frictions with China have given US trade diplomacy a sharper edge.

“The Indo-Pacific is an absolute priority of US policymakers in the executive branch and in Congress,” Brian Hook, Mr Pompeo’s senior policy advisor, told journalists in a conference call.

Countries in the region have been worried by Mr Trump’s “America first” policy, withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, and pursuit of a trade conflict with China that threatens to disrupt regional supply chains.

The United States’ first outlined its strategy to develop the Indo-Pacific economy at an Asia-Pacific summit last year.

“Indo-Pacific” has become known in diplomatic circles as shorthand for a broader and democratic-led region in place of “Asia-Pacific”, which from some perspectives had authoritarian China too firmly at its centre.

The Chamber of Commerce said on its website that the Indo-Pacific could account for half the world’s economy within decades, but needed investment of nearly $26 trillion in order to fulfill its potential.

Aside from Mr Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will also attend the forum, along with officials from Japan, Australia, Singapore, India and Indonesia.

Mr Hook said the United States approach to development of the region was not aiming to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

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