In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia's Insight programme, the US Secretary of State talks about ties with China and the Philippines, and fixing the world's oceans.
WASHINGTON, DC: Regardless of what may have been said in the heat of the American presidential race, Secretary of State John Kerry says that the United States will continue its policies of engagement in Asia.
"There is no way in today’s world that any president is going to say, 'I am going to ignore Asia', and somehow think that it will benefit our country or make it stronger or safer," said Mr Kerry in an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, on the Insight programme aired on Thursday (Sep 22).
Republican nominee Donald Trump's comments in recent months on Asia have stirred concerns that he would cut back on the US military presence in the region and slap tariffs on Asian imports, if he becomes president.
A group of Republican experts on Asia last month warned that his presidency would lead to "ruinous marginalisation" for the US in the region.
Mr Kerry - who has refrained from being drawn into a debate on the two nominees - declined to comment on Mr Trump specifically. "I can’t speak for him," he said.
"I am just saying, I think any president - I am not going to be specific, any president, Republican or Democrat - is going to be engaged with Asia," he said, adding that people would "make their own decisions" about the candidates' policy proposals.
A "CONSTRUCTIVE LUNCH" WITH DUTERTE
Asked about another controversial figure who has been compared to Mr Trump - Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte - Mr Kerry said the latter's recent remarks would not get in the way of US-Philippines, or indeed US-ASEAN, relations.
At a recent summit Mr Duterte, who currently chairs the regional grouping, called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore”, saying he did not like to be criticised over his country’s war on drugs and crime.
Said Mr Kerry: “I had a very constructive lunch with Duterte. I understand his very deep concern about knocking out drug traffickers, drug smugglers, and the negative impact they have to the nation.
“We talked about the need to protect human rights and do things under rule of law. I am a former prosecutor, he is a former prosecutor. We talked about counter narcotics initiatives and efforts."
The US was "prepared to work very closely with the Philippines" on a "sensible policy going forward to deal with criminal activities", added Mr Kerry.
IT'S NOT "CHOOSE US OR CHOOSE CHINA"
On the issue of China's growing interactions and influence within Asia, and its ongoing territorial disputes with neighbours in the South China Sea, Mr Kerry disagreed that conflict between China and the US was inevitable.
“I think there is more than enough space… This is a big world, with 200 plus countries, and massive challenges for all of us together,” Mr Kerry said, speaking to Channel NewsAsia on the sidelines of the 2016 Our Ocean Conference in Washington DC last week.
“We view China as an important rising force in Asia ... There are plenty of things for us to work on together.”
He added: “We do not view a relationship in the region as a zero sum game. We are not asking people to choose us or choose China.”
FIXING OUR OCEANS
One of the challenges that governments and countries need to work together on, is mitigating the damage done to the world's oceans, said Mr Kerry, who hosted the Our Ocean Conference.
During the meeting, international participants pledged more than US$5.3 billion (S$7.1 billion) for conservation and designated vast areas as protected waters.
“We have the responsibility to try to accelerate the work to undo the damage that has been done, to prevent future damage from literally putting at risk life on the planet,” said Mr Kerry.
“It’s one of the most important meetings I held since I have been Secretary of State, because it is so critical to global security.”
Watch: The interview on the Insight episode