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Trump sends senior diplomat to promote US arms sales in Asia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This handout photo taken on December 3, 2017 and provided by US Air Force shows US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon (R) and F-35A Lightning II fighter jets taxiing at Kunsan Air Base in the southwestern port city of Gunsan. (Via AFP)

The United States has sent its top diplomat overseeing foreign military sales to pitch American weaponry at the largest air show in Asia, amid concerns in Washington over China’s growing influence in the region.

Ambassador Tina Kaidanow will lead a delegation of senior US officials at the Singapore Air Show to be held February 6-10. The attendance of Kaidanow in the air show, described as the most important in the Asia Pacific region, is aimed at promoting US weapons manufacturers.

Kaidanow told reporters Monday that the American delegation will do "everything we can" to encourage Southeast Asian governments to purchase arms like F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp and missile manufactured by Raytheon Co.

The push comes as the administration of President Donald Trump is nearing completion of a new "Buy American" initiative that calls for a more active role by US diplomats and military attaches in overseas sales.

Kaidanow will be playing that role as the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

In a statement, the State Department said Kaidanow "will hold consultations on defense trade issues and promote more than 150 US companies and trade organizations exhibiting the latest aerospace technologies."

Singapore could serve as the test case for Trump’s new strategy of having the Pentagon and State Department get more involved in securing arms contracts.

"They will be able to use our equipment for maritime domain awareness, for maritime security ... that's important for them," said Kaidanow, who visited Hanoi last week.

The assurance came shortly after Defense Secretary James Mattis announced plans to send an aircraft carrier to Vietnam, which has been in a dispute with Beijing over territory in the South China Sea.

Beijing will likely view the new initiative by Washington as an effort to boost China’s rivals in the region. The US exported $49.5 billion of aerospace and military products to Asia Pacific in 2016, according to data by the US Department of Commerce.

The Trump administration in December revealed a new national security strategy that placed an emphasis on countering China.

China has also been irked by a Pentagon document, released Friday, which warns the US nuclear arsenal is becoming obsolete and no longer an effective deterrent against potential threats from China and Russia.

The 74-page Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) argues that developing smaller nuclear weapons would challenge that assumption.

Beijing expressed firm opposition to the Pentagon's review of US nuclear policy, urging Washington to drop its "Cold War mentality."

Beijing also said that it would "resolutely stick to peaceful development and pursue a national defense policy that is defensive in nature."



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