MANILA- United States Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Indonesia signals Washington’s support to countries in Southeast Asia following concerns over the seeming growth of Islamophobia in America, an analyst said Thursday.
Pence is set to visit the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Jakarta, on Thursday as part of his 10-day tour in Asia.
He is also scheduled to attend an interfaith dialogue there in an attempt to discredit accusations that the Trump administration is fueling Islamophobia.
Foreign affairs analyst Richard Heydarian said the visit aims to show US support to Indonesia as the world's most populous Muslim-majority country has seen its “moderate, cosmopolitan, interpretation of Islam” challenged by a “more puritanical and exclusivist view” of the religion.
“Mike Pence has a very difficult job here. He has to signal that he is standing strong by ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, by Indonesia, and that these countries still represent a bastion of freedom, democracy and pluralism,” Heydarian said in an interview on ANC.
The visit also aims to allay concerns and fears among Indonesians over America’s foreign policy amid the rise of “exclusivist statements coming from America,” Heydarian said.
“Pence’s visit to Indonesia is important because it shows that ASEAN is still within the... strategic radar of America,” he said, noting that this is the first visit of a high-ranking US official to the region.
Washington under President Donald Trump has been highly-criticized for allegedly stoking Islamophobia. The administration has tried to ban travelers from several Muslim-majority countries citing concerns over terror threats, but US courts are still challenging the policy.
“Mike Pence will attend a[n] interfaith dialogue and try to signal that America stands by the secular and moderate values of the Indonesian leadership and that they support Indonesian democracy, which is the largest Muslim majority country and the third largest democracy in the world,” Heydarian said.
Heydarian added that Pence will most likely downplay America's protectionist "America First" policy to assure Indonesia of strong trade relations.