US urges Southeast Asia to take strong stand on South China Sea ... and buy American weapons

US diplomat stresses need for region to uphold freedom of nation in disputed waters

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 5:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 9:48pm

A senior US diplomat touting American weapons at a Singapore trade show has called on Southeast Asian nations to take a stronger stand on their interests in the South China Sea.

The call comes less than a fortnight after the United States announced that one of its aircraft carriers would make a port call next month in Vietnam, once America’s foe but now the most vocal regional opponent to Beijing’s vast claims to the contested waters.

In the city state for the five-day Singapore Airshow, which starts on Tuesday, Tina Kaidanow, US acting assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said Washington encouraged members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to uphold freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

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“We are upholding very important internationally based norms like freedom of navigation ... And we encourage the countries in the region to do the same ... and to utilise the collective ability of the [Asean] countries in the region to enforce those norms,” Kaidanow said, without naming China.

“We certainly encourage Asean to be active and to have a voice that’s strong and ... not just to focus on specific issues like freedom of navigation in the South China Sea ... but also counterterrorism issues, all these other regional stability issues that matter ... over the long term.”

To further US President Donald Trump’s “Buy American” initiative, Kaidanow said the big US delegation to the air show was doing everything it could to encourage Southeast Asian countries to buy US weapons.

As part of the promotional push, two of the US’ F-35B stealth fighters will go on display at the event for the first time.

China says US forcing it to strengthen presence in South China Sea

China and Russia are also trying to ramp up sales to the region but Kaidanow said the US had a clear edge.

“Our products are not only the highest in quality, that’s pretty much indisputable, it also the case they comes in an array ... that nobody else could provide. That kind of thing ... [is] our strongest selling point ... in the industry,” she said.

In addition to meeting officials from Japan and Canada, Kaidanow said she would discuss arms sales with several Southeast Asian nations, arguing that they should consider buying US weapons “not just as a matter of security but also regional balance”.

Kaidanow’s stop in Singapore follows hard on the heels of a trip to Vietnam, which she said was “incredibly productive” and “another good marker on the already progressive road of a good, solid ... relationship that’s important to us”.

Washington is cultivating closer military ties with Hanoi as Beijing expands its presence in the South

China Sea by building islands and military facilities in the waters.

Chinese jets training with missiles fly by disputed South China Sea waters near Vietnam in new response to US warships

In his first state-of-the-union address late last month, Trump named China as a major US economic and military competitor. He also vowed to boost American defences to counter threats from China and Russia.

Kaidanow said Vietnam “will be able to use our equipment for maritime domain awareness, for maritime security”.

“Our hope is they will consider American companies [not only] in defence but in other sectors as well,” she said.