Mike Pence’s message to China: aggression has no place in Indo-Pacific

  • United States’ vision for the region ‘requires respect for neighbours and international rules’, vice-president tells Asean summit
  • He reiterates US’ commitment despite Donald Trump’s absence in Singapore
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 11:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2018, 7:36pm

US Vice-President Mike Pence has delivered a veiled warning to Beijing over its rising strength in the Indo-Pacific, saying aggression should not be tolerated and offering reassurances of Washington’s commitment to the region.

“We all agree that empire and aggression has no place in the Indo-Pacific,” Pence said as he addressed the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Singapore on Thursday.

“Let me be clear, though: our vision for the Indo-Pacific excludes no nation. It only requires that nations treat their neighbours with respect, and respect the sovereignty of our nations and international rules and order.”

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He added that the United States remained committed to upholding the freedom of seas and skies “where we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on freedom of navigation”.

Pence did not name any nation, but his remarks came with the US and China locking horns over the South China Sea, where their navy vessels almost collided in September.

He said previously that Washington was committed to maintaining openness in the waterway and would not be intimidated by China.

The US has conducted a series of “freedom of navigation” exercises in the disputed South China Sea, triggering protests from Beijing over what it says is infringement of sovereignty. China claims almost the entire South China Sea, while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan are also claimants.

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Pence flagged a tougher approach by the US towards Beijing in October, when he accused China of undermining US President Donald Trump.

The Asean summit began amid uncertainty over US commitment to the region. With Trump absent in Singapore, diplomats and analysts were questioning whether the US was still a strong partner of Asean nations.

Pence said the purpose of his trip to Asia this week was to make Trump’s vision of his Indo-Pacific strategy a reality, including boosting private investments and infrastructure across the region, and strengthening the US’ economic relations with countries based on free, fair and reciprocal trade.

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“The United States’ commitment to the Indo-Pacific is steadfast and enduring,” Pence told the summit, adding that Asean was central to the US’ view of the region as an “indispensable and irreplaceable strategic partner”.

“In all that we do, the United States seeks collaboration, not control,” he said. “Like you, we seek an Indo-Pacific in which all nations, large and small, can prosper and thrive, securing sovereignty, confident in our values, and growing stronger together.”