US is committed to rule of law in South China Sea, Mike Pompeo tells Asean

US secretary of state also says Washington wants to push forward Indo-Pacific investments

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 4:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 2:23pm

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said Washington was committed to rule of law in the South China Sea and wanted to move ahead with more investment in the Indo-Pacific region.

Pompeo also told a gathering of top diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore that Asean had been the top destination for US investment in Asia.

“The US is a Pacific nation and we remain committed to Asean centrality under our Indo-Pacific strategy,” Pompeo said.

He added that the US would support Asean efforts to promote peace in the region.

“On security, we appreciate Asean’s ongoing efforts to promote peace and stability in the region, support the rule of law in the South China Sea and to strictly enforce sanctions on North Korea,” he said.

The Asean meeting comes as China and the US are locked in a bitter trade dispute, with US President Donald Trump mulling plans to double tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese goods.

Washington has also been stepping up pressure on Beijing on the military front following the Trump administration’s decision to list China as one of America’s greatest rivals in his national security strategy last year. On Wednesday, the US Senate passed a US$716 billion defence bill which seeks to counter China’s rise in the region, in particular its military activities in the South China Sea.

Maritime disputes are one of the key agenda items at the Asean meeting. On Thursday, China and Southeast Asian nations agreed on a draft code of conduct that will lay the foundation for negotiations over the South China Sea. The two sides meanwhile began a maritime exercise in Singapore on Thursday.

Pompeo announced an initial US$113 million budget for Indo-Pacific development, including security assistance, on Monday, before he left for his five-day Asia trip.

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While not specifying the exact security assistance to be given, Pompeo said the funds were just a “down payment” on Washington’s commitment to the region. The rest of the budget would go to projects relating to the digital economy, energy and infrastructure, Pompeo said earlier.

While the amount has been dwarfed by China’s pledge of US$900 billion for the “Belt and Road Initiative” – covering numerous Asian countries – since 2013, Pompeo denied that it was trying to rival Beijing in building infrastructure and trade routes in the region.

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Australia and Japan said they would join the US in a push to invest in infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region.

After Pompeo’s initial announcement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China welcomed the plan and that it would be good if the three countries could increase their investment in the region.