Pompeo ends Vietnam tour of Asia after prisoner freed

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HANOI, Oct. 30 (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday closed a visit to Asia in Vietnam after a tour marked by his repeated calls for help to the United States in dealing with security threats posed by the China.

Vietnam, which also shares concerns about an increasingly assertive China, was a late addition to the trip which included Sri Lanka, India, Maldives and Indonesia.

“We look forward to continuing to work together to strengthen our relationship and make the region – throughout Southeast Asia, Asia and the Indo-Pacific – safe, peaceful and prosperous,” said Pompeo, who greeted Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc with a nudge before their meeting.

Phuc said he was seeking “sincere cooperation” to support a peaceful region and progress in trade and investment relations.

Although there was no public mention of China on Friday, Pompeo urged countries in Southeast Asia to resist its bullying and reassess trade deals with its state-owned enterprises.

On Wednesday in Sri Lanka, Pompeo said the Chinese Communist Party was operating as a “predator”. In India the day before, he called for cooperation to deal with what he called Chinese threats to security and freedom in the region.

China has said the United States should stop its accusations and unprovoked attacks.

The main concern in Vietnam is China’s claims in the South China Sea.

China’s U-shaped “nine-dash line” on its maps marks a vast expanse of the sea it claims, including parts of Vietnam’s continental shelf where it has granted oil concessions and where Chinese ships and Vietnamese have been entangled in recent years for months. long dead ends.

Pompeo’s trip came as Vietnam and the United States marked the 25th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations. But it also happened a week after Hanoi’s release of an American citizen of Vietnamese origin sentenced to 12 years in prison for “attempting to overthrow the state”.

Hours before Pompeo’s arrival, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry issued a statement that the man, Michael Nguyen, who returned home to California last week, has been released on humanitarian grounds. The statement made no reference to Nguyen’s account of his arrest and questioning, including his statement at a press conference on Wednesday that he had been kidnapped. On Friday, met with Vietnamese Minister of Public Security To Lam, whose office is responsible for tracking down dissidents in the country under communist rule.

Bitter enemies during the Vietnam War of the 1960s and early 1970s, Hanoi and Washington have enjoyed a much warmer relationship in recent years.

But there have been trade tensions lately, with the US trade representative confirming in August that he is investigating whether Vietnam is undervaluing its dong currency and harming US trade.

Prime Minister Phuc this week called on President Donald Trump to have “a more objective assessment of the reality in Vietnam” regarding the trade imbalance.

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