US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called on Southeast Asian countries to review relations with Chinese state-owned enterprises, increasing pressure on Beijing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
“Just speak, but don’t act,” Pompeo said Thursday during a virtual summit with the Foreign Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “Rethinking trade with very state-owned companies threatening the ASEAN coastal states in the South China Sea. Do not let the Chinese Communist Party run on us and our people. ”
Tensions in the South China Sea have increased over the past few months as the US and China have done everything from Hong Kong to democracy to data security on popular Chinese apps Tickcock and WeChat. In July, the US categorically rejected China’s extensive maritime claims in the region for the first time, and sent aircraft carriers into the water to conduct military exercises.
China fired missiles into the South China Sea last month, underscoring the rising cost of any armed conflict in the region. The missiles showed China the ability to attack American targets and aircraft carriers, which are the major sources of US power launch in the region.
Pompeo’s comment came after US last month Declared trade and visa restrictions on 24 companies for their efforts to help China “reclaim disputed outposts and militarize the declared maritime zone” – a key builder of Belt & Road, state-owned China Communications Construction Co. “Initiative Projects.
During the meeting, Pompeo voiced concern over China’s actions in the South China Sea, reiterating that the US considered Beijing’s expansive maritime claims in the waters illegal as per a 2016 international tribunal ruling. China considers the decision illegitimate because it had chosen provisions for settlement of the dispute when it signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“I know that many of you were skeptical about the Trump administration and our intentions when we took office,” he said. “You have to believe that America will befriend you to help you, as we have been doing for the last three and a half years.”
Vietnam’s top diplomat said that Southeast Asian countries want the US to play a role in maintaining peace in the South China Sea, against Beijing’s comments saying that the US military was destroying the area. Vietnam has headed the rotation of the block.
Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said during the summit, “We welcome America’s constructive and responsive contribution to ASEAN’s efforts to maintain peace, stability and development in the South China Sea.” Without naming China, he said that the militarization of the sea “increases trust and confidence, increases tensions and reduces peace, security and the rule of law in the region.”
Southeast Asian countries were open to opportunities for practical cooperation with the US in the region, Min said. Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia have been locked in territorial disputes with China, which have affected their ability to extract fish, oil and gas from offshore fields.
At a virtual summit the day before, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Southeast Asian foreign ministers that the US was interfering in territorial disputes and strengthened its military deployment in the constituency “out of its own political objectives” having had. He called the US “the biggest driver of militarization of the South China Sea”, according to statements posted by China’s Foreign Ministry.
The US has become “the most dangerous factor damaging peace in the South China Sea”, Wang said, reiterating China’s position that disputes should be resolved by regional countries. “Peace and stability are China’s biggest strategic interest in the South China Sea, which is also the common aspiration of ASEAN countries,” he said.
On Wednesday, Wang rejected the idea that China claims all water within the nine-dash line as its territorial sea, calling it a “distortion” of China’s stance. He emphasized China’s claim of islands in the South China Sea as “abundant historical and legal basis.”
He also argued that sugar manufacture on the reefs and islets was to improve living conditions and provide a “public good” for the area. “In the face of military pressure from a non-regional country, of course we have the right to protect our sovereignty,” he said.
– Assisted by John Boudreu, Jing Li, Juan Queen Nguyen, Philip Heijman and Derek Wallbank
(Taken with the statement of Secretary of State Pompeo)