WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence toured Southeast Asia’s largest mosque Thursday during a stop in Indonesia, and praised the largest Muslim-majority country’s traditionally moderate religious stance as “an inspiration to the world.”
Pence’s message struck a conciliatory tone, in an administration that has stirred unease with its rhetoric regarding Muslims. Trump often decries “radical Islamic terrorism” and has enacted policies that target Muslim majority countries.
Pence, an evangelical Christian, spoke alongside Indonesian President Joko Widodo before meeting with a group of interfaith religious leaders. Pence also toured Jakarta’s Istiqlal mosque.
“Indonesia’s tradition of moderate Islam, frankly, is an inspiration to the world. And we commend you and your people,” Pence said during a joint statement with Widodo. “In your nation, as in mine, religion unifies – it doesn’t divide… Rest assured, under President Trump, the United States welcomes all who share our values and strive for that brighter future.”
Pence’s visit, part of a 10-day tour across Southeast Asia, comes a day after the Indonesian capital of Jakarta elected a new Muslim governor who had promoted Islamist views through his campaign.
Pence said the U.S and Indonesia will continue to cooperate in counterterrorism efforts. U.S. military officials have expressed concern that as ISIS is defeated in its stronghold of Iraq and Syria, it could crop us as a serious security threat in majority- Muslim nations in Southeast Asia.
He reaffirmed U.S. support for the freedom of navigation and trade though the South China Sea. Indonesia is among several nations who lay claim to the waters, which China has claimed as largely its own and built up militarized features to exert ownership.
Pence foreshadowed the potential for trade negotiations with Indonesia, and Widodo said that come next month the nations will establish a team to “discuss the arrangement of trade and investment bilateral between the countries based on the principles of win-win solution.”
“We must level the playing field, break down barriers to ensure that American exporters can fully participate in the Indonesia market, the same freedom that Indonesia exporters have had in many sectors in the United States for many years,” Pence said.
Upon entering the presidency, Trump pulled out of negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral free trade accord that would have stretched to nations around the Pacific Rim. The pact did not include Indonesia, with whom the U.S. had a trade deficit of $13.2 billion in 2016. Trump has said that he instead intends to pursue bilateral trade agreements.
During a visit to the headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta, Pence said Trump will attend three regional summits in November: a U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines, as well as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting in Vietnam.