Channel NewsAsia

Kerry presses Asia on democracy, human rights

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday (Aug 13) urged China and other Asian countries to bolster democracy and human rights in a region at the top of America's agenda.

HONOLULU: US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday (Aug 13) urged China and other Asian countries to bolster democracy and human rights in a region at the top of America's agenda.

"The United States is an Asian-Pacific nation, and we take our enduring interests there very seriously," Kerry said at the East-West Center in Honolulu. "We know that America's security and prosperity are closely and increasingly linked to the Asia-Pacific."

The top US diplomat spoke during a stop in Hawaii that concluded a global tour through Afghanistan, Australia, Myanmar and the Solomon Islands as part of the US administration's "rebalance" to Asia. But his trip was largely overshadowed by wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

Washington is focused on four major issues in Asia: economic growth, energy revolution and climate change, regional security cooperation and improved civil engagement.

On democracy and human rights, Kerry acknowledged "bright spots," but also pointed to "backsliding" in places like Thailand, where the army seized power in May. "In Thailand, a close friend and ally, we are disturbed by the setback to democracy and hope it is a temporary bump in the road," Kerry said. "We call on the Thai authorities to lift restrictions on political activity and speech, restore civilian rule and return quickly to democracy through free and fair elections."

In neighboring Myanmar, which Kerry visited last weekend for the East Asia Summit, he noted that the country "still has a long way to go" toward full-fledged democracy. Turning his attention toward China, Kerry said that "by deepening its democracy, and preserving its traditions of tolerance, it can be a model for how Asian values and democratic principles inform and strengthen one another."

While acknowledging differences with the governments in the region on democratic governance and protecting human rights, he stressed that the differences on "universal and pragmatic" values were few.

"Given a choice, I don't think too many young people in China would choose to have less access to uncensored information, rather than more," Kerry said. "And so, we will continue to promote human rights and democracy in Asia, without arrogance but also without apology."

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia