Pompeo criticizes China after meeting top diplomat in Bangkok

By Phan Anh    August 1, 2019 | 08:03 am PT
Pompeo criticizes China after meeting top diplomat in Bangkok
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a joint news conference with his Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai after a bilateral meeting, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting in Bangkok, Thailand August 1, 2019. Photo by Reuters/Jonathan Ernst.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday criticized China’s actions in Asia after meeting his Chinese counterpart.

Pompeo spoke out against Chinese "coercion" of Southeast Asian neighbors in disputes over the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, and its dam-building on the Mekong River.

His comments highlighted the U.S. divide with China at a meeting in Bangkok of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

After meeting China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, Pompeo said both countries wanted to improve ties that have soured on issues ranging from trade, U.S. sanctions on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, Taiwan and the busy South China Sea waterway.

"We are working with them on many fronts," Pompeo said.

"But we are also very candid about the places we are hoping China will behave in ways that they are not behaving today and we talked about each of those as well."

Earlier, Wang had struck a more conciliatory tone, saying he and Pompeo had discussed ways to promote China-U.S. ties.

"There may be at various times issues and problems between China and the United States, but no matter how many problems, it is important for both sides to sit down and have face-to-face discussions," Wang said after the meeting of about 30 minutes.

In Bangkok, Pompeo said he had urged regional allies to speak out against Chinese coercion in the South China Sea and earlier said Chinese dam-building upstream on the Mekong River had caused decade-low water levels in the river’s lower basin in Southeast Asia.

Both officials are in the Thai capital of Bangkok for security meetings with countries of the ASEAN grouping, on the front line of rivalry between the United States and an increasingly muscular China.

South China Sea issues are shadowing the 52nd ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting, following recent tension between China and Vietnam.

For almost a month now, Chinese oil survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts have been operating near Vietnam's Vanguard Bank in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, infringing upon the Vietnam's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.

Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh denounced the activities at the ASEAN meeting on Wednesday, calling them "illegal" and "serious violations" of Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction.

Before the meeting, Pompeo on Monday received a letter from four U.S. senators Bob Menendez, Ed Markey, Patrick Leahy and Brian Schatz, asking him to accord high priority to China’s maritime aggression in the South China Sea at the ASEAN Regional Forum and forge a regional consensus with the U.S.'s allies and partners to protect their rights, end Chinese intimidation, coercion, rejection of peaceful diplomatic arbitration.

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