TOURING Southeast Asia’s largest mosque in Indonesia on Thursday, US Vice President Mike Pence praised Indonesia’s Islam as an “inspiration to the world.”
Pence visited Masjid Istiqlal in Central Jakarta as part of his 10-day tour of Southeast Asia, in what is the first trip to the region by a senior Trump administration official.
The visit comes amid ongoing tensions in the South China Sea, concerns about the growing influence of Islamic State in Southeast Asia, and strained US-Philippine relations since Rodrigo Duterte’s rise to power.
“As the largest majority-Muslim country, Indonesia’s tradition of moderate Islam, frankly, is an inspiration to the world,” Pence said. “In your nation as in mine, religion unifies, it doesn’t divide.”
He later met with leaders from a range of Indonesia’s many faith communities, including Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, reports Reuters.
But it was somewhat awkward timing, given only the night before at the mosque, hardline cleric Rizieq Shibab and leader of the notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) had welcomed and personally congratulated the victor of Jakarta’s gubernatorial election Anies Baswedan.
Anies and his running mate Sandiaga Uno swept to victory over the incumbent Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama on Wednesday, in a racially and religiously charged electoral campaign.
The Anies-Sandiaga camp has attracted criticism for capitalising on a movement by hardline Muslims to unseat and imprison Christian Ahok for allegedly blasphemous remarks he made regarding the Quran last September.
Trade was a major issue on Pence’s agenda, who insisted the United States wants fairer trade with Indonesia. Southeast Asia’s largest economy is one of 16 nations currently under review for having a trade surplus with the US.
— Kantor Staf Presiden (@KSPgoid) April 20, 2017
The Indonesian president’s office tweeted on Thursday that “in addition to commitment to trade cooperation, both countries hold similar views on world peace.”
Pence said Trump’s administration would work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on issues around security, trade and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Pence and President Donald Trump will attend the ASEAN in November, visiting Vietnam and the Philippines, in what is the fiftieth anniversary of the regional organisation.