JAKARTA, Indonesia — Downplaying direct confrontation between the USA and China, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Tuesday pledged to strengthen relations with Indo-Pacific nations by means of billions of {dollars} in American funding and help and, in doing so, counter Beijing’s regional pull.

That soft-power pitch was delivered at Universitas Indonesia in Jakarta, the nation’s capital, and continued with a sequence of agreements on maritime cooperation and schooling and Peace Corps exchanges. The college was additionally the positioning of a speech almost 60 years in the past by Robert F. Kennedy, who spoke then of open relations amongst states, as long as one didn’t threaten the rights of others.

Mr. Blinken known as it exceptional that the broader aim had modified so little for a area that now accounts for 60 % of the worldwide financial system and is rising sooner than wherever else on this planet. The Indo-Pacific covers nations primarily within the Indian Ocean area, together with India, Australia, Japan and the Affiliation of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

“All of us have a stake in guaranteeing that the world’s most dynamic area is free from coercion and accessible to all,” he mentioned. “That is good for folks throughout the area, and it’s good for People, as a result of historical past exhibits that when this huge area is free and open, America is safer and extra affluent.”

However China, the regional heavyweight, overshadows U.S. trade in almost nation within the Indo-Pacific. In Southeast Asia alone, two-way commerce with China reached $685 billion in 2020, greater than double that of the area’s commerce with the USA.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is aimed toward building infrastructure like ports, railway lines and roads around the world, has continued to make inroads in Southeast Asia even in the course of the pandemic. This month, Laos accomplished its first high-speed railway, a $6 billion project backed by China. A number of weeks earlier than that, Vietnam opened its first metro line in Hanoi, additionally due to China. And in Indonesia, China has spent billions of dollars to construct high-speed rail strains, energy crops, dams and highways.

“The Achilles’ heel of U.S. coverage stays financial engagement, with China far outpacing the U.S. in commerce and infrastructure funding,” mentioned Jonathan R. Stromseth, a Southeast Asia professional and senior fellow on the Brookings Establishment.

In contrast to his predecessor, President Biden has avoided directly pressuring other nations to choose between partnering with both the USA or China on a bunch of points. Nonetheless, Mr. Stromseth mentioned, parallel efforts by China and the USA to outdo one another dangers “{that a} bipolar divide is hardening for the long run, with doubtlessly critical penalties for regional stability and improvement.”

China has stepped up its army operations within the Indo-Pacific, with warplanes flying over parts of Taiwan and staking claims over disputed territory within the South China Sea. These actions, amongst others, have put the Pentagon on alert.

Mr. Blinken mentioned bluntly, “We don’t need battle within the Indo-Pacific.” But he additionally described “a lot concern” within the area over Beijing’s actions, which he mentioned has distorted open markets with state-subsidized merchandise, restricted commerce by its adversaries and engaged in unlawful fishing. “International locations throughout the area need this habits to vary,” Mr. Blinken mentioned. “We do too.”

Mr. Blinken’s primary message was that the USA is a greater wager as a companion than China.

He mentioned the USA had donated 300 million coronavirus vaccines — one-third of its worldwide contribution — to the Indo-Pacific and would proceed to take a position billions of {dollars} in its public well being methods.

The vaccines, which Mr. Blinken mentioned got “with no strings hooked up,” might show to be the USA’ primary leverage in Southeast Asia, as a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of doses despatched by Chinese language firms have been discovered to be largely ineffective against the Delta variant.

On local weather, Mr. Blinken famous a $500 million dedication to assist finance a photo voltaic manufacturing facility in India as amongst efforts to assist the area stave off environmental crises with out disrupting economies. He pledged to pursue agreements to bolster knowledge privateness and safe know-how utilized in financial transactions, “as a result of if we don’t form them, others will.”

And he mentioned the Biden administration would work to ease snarls within the world items provide chain in a area that buys almost one-third of all U.S. exports.

Throughout Southeast Asia, personal investments by the USA amounted to $328.5 billion in 2020, outpacing China. “The area has instructed us loud and clear that it needs us to do extra,” Mr. Blinken mentioned. “We’ll meet that decision.”

Mr. Blinken’s go to to Indonesia, the biggest nation within the Affiliation of Southeast Asian Nations, was seen as overdue: Neither Vice President Kamala Harris nor Protection Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III stopped right here in latest travels to the area. In a contemporary reminder of the nation’s strategic worth, Mr. Blinken arrived only some hours after Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Kremlin’s Safety Council; their planes have been parked subsequent to one another at Jakarta’s airport.

Mr. Blinken’s speech was properly acquired by some inside Indonesia. Tom Lembong, who was Indonesia’s commerce minister from 2015 to 2016, mentioned it “hit the bull’s-eye on what policymakers throughout ASEAN need, which is concrete and sensible options, and fewer of the hovering rhetoric that has dominated American official engagement with Southeast Asia over the past 20 years.”

“I’d argue that right now, the Biden administration is succeeding in Southeast Asia — they’re regaining misplaced floor and making up for misplaced time,” Mr. Lembong mentioned in an e-mail.

Many nations in Southeast Asia stay cautious of being drawn right into a Chilly-Warfare standoff between the USA and China. In November, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore indicated that he was uncomfortable with Mr. Biden’s calls to influence leaders from democracies to current a extra unified entrance towards China.

“All of us wish to work along with the U.S.,” Mr. Lee mentioned in a November interview with Bloomberg Information. However, he added, “I believe not very many nations want to be part of a coalition towards those that have been excluded, chief of whom can be China.”

The area is cut up between nations which are friendlier with China, like Cambodia and Laos, and others which are extra hard-line, resembling Vietnam. In earlier years, the bloc of Southeast Asian states has been torn about the best way to tackle the dispute within the South China Sea, with some nations not eager to offend Beijing.

“The sin of China is undermining and breaking apart ASEAN,” mentioned Kasit Piromya, who was Thailand’s international minister from 2008 to 2011. “China has the cash, they’re wealthy and have their tasks and initiatives. However that doesn’t imply that we’ve to be their doormat. I believe we’re afraid of China, however this isn’t primarily based on actuality.”

Lara Jakes reported from Jakarta and Sui-Lee Wee from Singapore. Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting from Bangkok.