Secretary of State George P. Shultz last Friday began his second visit in two months to the western Pacific. Aides say the 10-day, five-nation visit symbolizes the region's growing political and economic importance to the United States. The trip will also provide a chance to signal US support for the new Philippine government of Corazon Aquino. The main purpose of Mr. Shultz's trip is to attend a meeting in Manila of foreign ministers from the six countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand -- and their six ``dialogue partners,'' including Australia, Canada, the European Community, Japan, New Zealand, and the US.
Together the ASEAN nations have become the United States's fifth largest trading partner. In meetings Thursday and Friday with ASEAN foreign ministers, Shultz is expected to address various trade concerns of the member nations and to reiterate the continued opposition of the Reagan administration to protectionist trade policies.
Shultz may hold a separate meeting in Manila with New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange. US relations with New Zealand, a member with Australia and the US of the ANZUS alliance, have been cool since last year, when Mr. Lange's Labor government refused to allow a US warship on ANZUS military exercises to dock at a New Zealand port. New Zealand does not permit nuclear-armed or -powered ships in its ports.
A senior State Department official reconfirmed this week that the US still considers the ANZUS alliance to be ``in existence,'' but faulted New Zealand for ``not living up to its obligations'' under the treaty.
While in Manila, Shultz will also meet with officials of Mrs. Aquino's government. High on the agenda will be the issues of trade, aid, and former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.
The Philippine government is seeking US backing for a plan to refinance the country's $26 billion debt and to open the door wider to various exports, including textiles, earnings from which are used to pay interest on the debt. Philippine officials are expected press for more US aid beyond the $236 million in economic and military assistance already allocated for 1986.
Philippine officials also will urge the US to take steps to restrain Mr. Marcos, who has used his exile in Hawaii to foster dissent against the Aquino government by funding antigovernment demonstrations. A State Department source says the US is opposed to Marcos's political activities and has conveyed its concerns to the deposed president.
After a weekend rest stop in Hong Kong, Shultz is to arrive today in Singapore for a meeting with Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. On Tuesday, Shultz will pay his first visit to Brunei, the newest member of ASEAN.
After leaving the Philippines, Shultz will visit the island kingdom of Palau. The secretary's last visit to Palau was as a young US marine during World War II.