(Bloomberg) – Southeast Asian countries want the United States to play a role in maintaining peace in the South China Sea, Vietnam said, pushing back Beijing’s comments that US forces destabilized the region.
“We welcome the constructive and responsive contributions of the United States to ASEAN’s efforts to maintain peace, stability and developments in the South China Sea,” Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said Thursday. , during a virtual summit between representatives of the Association of 10 members. Southeast Asian Nations and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. Vietnam assumes the rotating presidency of the bloc.
Southeast Asian countries were open to opportunities for practical cooperation with the United States in the region, Minh said. Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia have been locked in territorial disputes with China that have impacted their ability to extract fish, oil and gas from offshore areas.
At a virtual summit a day earlier, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Southeast Asian foreign ministers that the United States was intervening in territorial disputes and stepping up its military deployment in the disputed area “for their own political purposes”. He called the United States “the main engine behind the militarization of the South China Sea,” according to statements released by China’s Foreign Ministry.
The United States has become “the most dangerous factor that undermines peace in the South China Sea,” Wang said, reiterating China’s position that the differences should be resolved by countries in the region. “Peace and stability are the greatest strategic interest of China in the South China Sea, which is also the common aspiration of the countries of Asia,” he said.
Tensions in the South China Sea have increased in recent months, as the United States and China squabble in everything from democracy in Hong Kong to data security through popular Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat. In July, the United States explicitly rejected China’s vast maritime claims in the region for the first time and sent aircraft carriers into the waters to conduct military exercises.
China last month fired missiles into the South China Sea, a move that underscored the growing cost of any armed conflict in the region. The missiles have shown China’s ability to strike US bases and aircraft carriers, the main sources of US power projection in the region.
In a separate meeting on Wednesday, Pompeo joined several ASEAN countries in raising concerns about China’s actions in the South China Sea, according to a State Department statement. He reiterated that the United States viewed Beijing’s vast maritime claims in the South China Sea as illegal according to a 2016 international tribunal ruling that China considers illegitimate because it withdrew from the related provisions. to dispute settlement when it signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of China. Sea.
“We express our grave concern at the on-going developments on the ground, including serious incidents, continued militarization and activities that infringe the legitimate rights of small countries, go against international law,” said Minh , the Vietnamese minister, citing the 1982 United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea. “These have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and undermined peace, security and the rule of law in the region.”
Wang on Wednesday rejected the idea of China claiming all waters within the nine-dash line as its territorial sea, calling it a “distortion” of China’s position. He insisted that China’s claim to the South China Sea islands has “an abundant historical and legal basis.”
He also argued that Chinese construction on the reefs and islets was aimed at improving living conditions and providing a “public good” to the region. “In the face of military pressure from a non-regional country, of course we have the right to protect our own sovereignty,” he said.
The United States said it is also joining several countries in raising concerns over the imposition of sweeping national security legislation in Hong Kong, the arrests of pro-democracy students, the postponement of ‘one year of elections and the disqualification of pro-democracy electoral candidates.
In response, Wang said the East Asia Summit had “never been a place of interference in the internal affairs of other countries and should not become a stage to attack the political system. other countries”.
© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.