August 07, 2023

For second time this year, Duckworth leads congressional trip to Indo-Pacific

Source: The Pantagraph


U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth is leading a congressional trip to the Indo-Pacific region for the second time this year with stops set for Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. 

The follow-up trip comes with the aim of further bolstering military and economic partnerships between the U.S. and several countries in the region. 

It can be viewed as a projection of American power as the country enters a greater level of competition with China, as well as an opportunity to promote Illinois industries and products, such as agriculture and ethanol.

"When I meet with delegations that are coming to the U.S. and when I'm there, what they say is, 'We want you here, don't make us choose between the (People’s Republic of China) and the United States,'" Duckworth said Friday in a press call ahead of her trip. "'But we don't want you to be absent.'"

"We need you to be here and we need you to be an option for us so that we can have deeper participation with you,'" she continued. "It can't always just be military, which is why I'm really pushing on the energy aspect." 

In Indonesia, for instance, Duckworth hopes to forge partnerships with Japanese and Korean companies "looking at rare earth minerals in Indonesia for the EV battery market here in the United States." Currently, the Chinese are considered the biggest players in that market. 

Illinois has sought to market itself as the "Silicon Valley" of electric vehicles. State lawmakers have approved a bevy of incentives aimed at EV producers and parts manufacturers. And the state has set a goal of having at least 1 million EVs on Illinois roads by 2030. As of July, there were just more than 76,000, according to data from the Secretary of State's Office. 

However, growth has been slow-going, with only two agreements having been reached so far under the state's Reimagining Energy and Vehicles (REV) Illinois tax credit program — and none for the production of much-needed batteries.

"We have a shortage of EV manufacturers in the United States. We need (a battery manufacturer) in Illinois, in particular," Duckworth said. "Rivan and Lion Electric are producing electronic vehicles in Illinois. So I've been talking with Panasonic and some other Japanese companies, and also some Korean companies and Samsung about trying to bring a battery manufacturer into Illinois." 

Whether those conversations are fruitful likely won't be known for a while, though Duckworth points to previous trips she's taken that have resulted in economic investment in the state, such as the partnership between Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. and South Korean-based LG on a Decatur plant. 

While in Indonesia, Duckworth plans to meet with other countries that are part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is based in Jakarta.

In the Philippines, Duckworth will meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and other senior government officials. She will also be talking about the expanded U.S. military presence there. In June, the U.S., Japan and the Philippines coast guards conducted joint operations in Manila. 

Duckworth said she also plans to push for the Philippines to adopt a higher blend of ethanol, which would be a boon for Illinois' farmers and could help the Philippines reduce its carbon footprints. 

In Thailand, Duckworth said she will steer clear of politics — the country in the midst of a deadlock following elections earlier this year — and focus on economic and environmental initiatives, namely issues like water quality and conservation as well as erosion control on the country's rivers. 

Duckworth, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, was asked by reporters before she left if she believes Sen. Tommy Tuberville's hold on hundreds of military promotions would be brought up during her trip. 

Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, has prevented hundreds of military promotions and appointments from being approved over a disagreement on Pentagon abortion policy. This has led to many interim appointments and has sparked concerns about military readiness.

"I'm sure that it will come up," Duckworth said. "The problem we have right now is Sen. Tuberville's really dangerous hold on these promotions means that we only have people in acting capacity in many of the positions down range."

"And so when you're in an acting capacity, you can't make certain decisions, you can't sign certain agreements, and it does affect our ability to interact and form partnerships with our friends and allies overseas," she said. "So I do expect that I will hear it."

Duckworth, a Democrat first elected to the Senate in 2016 and reelected last year, serves on the body's Armed Services; Commerce, Science & Transportation; Small Business & Entrepreneurship; and Foreign Relations committees. 

By:  Brenden Moore