Still, Pompeo’s announcement, coming ahead of his trip to Southeast Asia, carries political clout in a region dominated by Chinese funds.
It signals “that smaller countries drawn to China’s economic outreach can rely on the United States,” analysts at intelligence firm Statfor said in a note.
“At this stage it is difficult to see this U.S. initiative as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road, though this certainly is designed to offer more choices for countries in the region,” echoed Chengxin Pan, associate professor at Australia’s Deakin University.
A year and a half ago, Washington’s engagement with Asia was thrown into question by Trump’s exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Since then, doubts have only grown, especially following Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on Asian allies.
Monday’s news addresses those concerns, according to Brett McGonegal, chairman and chief executive officer of financial services firm Capital Link International. It’s Washington’s way of saying that “it hasn’t actually lost Asia Pacific” and American leaders are “not walking away from the region,” he said.
However, the U.S. may still have more convincing to do.
Despite Pompeo’s positive speech, “few of his counterparts believe he is channeling President Trump’s own views, which are distinctly unorthodox,” warned Daniel Russel, vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute.