JAKARTA, Indonesia — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence praised Indonesia’s democracy and moderate form of Islam on Thursday alongside the president of the world’s most populous Muslim nation, reinforcing his message with a visit to the region’s largest mosque.
Pence’s comments, though routine, had significance for Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who a day earlier suffered a serious political setback when a political ally was defeated by Islamic conservatives in the election for Jakarta governor. The divisive campaign undermined the image of Indonesia abroad as a generally tolerant Muslim nation.
Indonesia is the latest stop on an Asian tour by Pence that aims to reaffirm traditional U.S. alliances at a time when Donald Trump’s presidency has raised questions about the strength of the U.S. commitment to the region.
Pence said at a joint news conference with Jokowi that the U.S. wants to strengthen its strategic partnership with Indonesia. In brief comments, Jokowi said they agreed to boost cooperation.
The vice president praised Indonesia for its moderate form of Islam and said the two countries would continue to cooperate on combating terrorism.
“As the second- and third-largest democracies in the world, our two countries share many common values including freedom, the rule of law, human rights and religious diversity,” Pence said. “The United States is proud to partner with Indonesia. It promotes and protects these values.”
The vice president added: “Indonesia’s tradition of moderate Islam frankly is an inspiration to the world and we commend you and your people. In your nation as in mine, religion unifies, it doesn’t divide.”
But Pence foreshadowed some reworking of commercial and economic ties, saying that the U.S. seeks a free and fair relationship that helps job creation and economic growth for both sides. He said that U.S. exporters should face a level playing field and the relationship should be “win-win.”
Trump assailed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal during his 2016 campaign and announced shortly after his inauguration that the U.S. would withdraw from the Pacific Rim-based TPP, which now includes 11 countries from Chile to New Zealand. Pence has sought to reassure allies in the region that the U.S. is still committed to trade and economic ties despite Trump’s decision on TPP.
Indonesia is on Trump’s trade hit list of nations that he considers the U.S. is losing out to in trade, and U.S. company Freeport-McMoran Inc., which operates the world’s largest copper mine in the Indonesian province of Papua, is in a protracted dispute with the Indonesian government.
Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, is active in Indonesia with plans to manage luxury resorts being built near the capital Jakarta and on the tourist island of Bali.
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