Visits will Include International Discussions on Climate, Human Rights, And Countering Problematic PRC Influence in Southeast Asia

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley – a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – announced today that he will lead a bicameral congressional delegation to Vietnam and Indonesia that will take place over this week and next. The delegation will work to advance both bilateral relations as well as multilateral relations with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The goals of the trip include to enhance cooperation on climate, uphold human rights, and assist nations of ASEAN to protect and enhance their sovereignty and security in the face of increased aggression by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Joining Merkley are Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN).

“Vietnam and Indonesia are critical partners to the United States, and only together will we be able to tackle the multi-faceted challenges of this century,” said Senator Merkley. “Our trip will be an opportunity to strengthen not only relationships between our governments but also between the people of our countries.”

“Strengthening our partnerships around the world will help us build a better future for Americans and the global community alike. This is especially true in Southeast Asia as wework to promote closer bonds between our nations and address the climate crisis, protect human rights, and strengthen our mutual security. This trip will be an opportunity to address these areas and more,” said Senator Van Hollen.  

Over eight days, the delegation will attend over 35 meetings with top government officials, leadership from the ASEAN, civil society organizations, industry leaders, and Americans working in both countries – from U.S. business executives to Peace Corps Volunteers.

In Vietnam, the delegation will examine the painful wartime legacy of the Vietnam conflict and the inspiring efforts toward reconciliation, including projects that seek to remediate dioxin from Agent Orange, clear land mines, account for both U.S. and Vietnamese prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, and support children with disabilities stemming from the war. In Indonesia, which is serving as the 2023 ASEAN chair, the delegation will focus on how ASEAN can contribute to regional stability, especially with regards to the conflict in Burma, and ways the U.S. can support ASEAN efforts to stand up to the PRC’S coercive behavior. 

In an effort to better understand how climate chaos is impacting local communities and ecosystems, the delegation will travel outside the capitals of both countries to areas most at risk. In Vietnam, the delegation will visit a town on the Mekong River, which is already affected by rising sea levels, and will meet with students, climate change experts, and fish farmers. In Indonesia, the delegation will travel to the rainforest in Borneo to examine biodiversity conservation and forest management efforts through visits to orangutan sanctuaries, mangroves, and the new Indonesian capital.

Before the visit, Senators Merkley and Van Hollen – who serves as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia subcommittee – introduced a resolution reaffirming the United States’ support for ASEAN centrality, the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, and ASEAN-led mechanisms in the institutional architecture of the Indo-Pacific region.

Merkley – along with Alaska’s U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan – also introduced a bipartisan resolution to bring awareness to the environmental, humanitarian, and economic issues facing the Mekong River, as well as recognizing the vital importance of the Mekong-United States Partnership in supporting prosperity in the region.