Pompeo Wraps Up Anti-China Tour in Asia10/30 06:28
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrapped up a
five-nation, anti-China tour of Asia in Vietnam on Friday with a call for
regional unity to counter Beijing's growing assertiveness, as the fierce
American presidential election race entered its final stretch.
With just four days left in the campaign in which China has been a central
theme, Pompeo visited Hanoi ostensibly to celebrate 25 years of U.S.-Vietnam
relations. But, as he has at his previous stops in India, Sri Lanka, the
Maldives and Indonesia, Pompeo's main aim was to shore up support for pushing
back on China.
"We have enormous respect for the Vietnamese people and your country's
sovereignty," Pompeo told Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
In brief comments heard by reporters, neither man mentioned China by name,
but Pompeo's use of the word "sovereignty" has become code for referring to
opposition to Chinese encroachment, particularly in Asia.
"We look forward to continuing to work together to build on our relationship
and to make the region --- throughout Southeast Asia, Asia and the Indo-Pacific
--- safe and peaceful and prosperous," Pompeo said.
Phuc said he seeks "sincere cooperation" between both sides in support of a
The Trump administration has made confronting China, its handling of the
coronavirus pandemic, human rights record and aggressiveness toward its smaller
neighbors one of its main foreign policy priorities. Those issues, particularly
the Chinese origin of the virus, have been highlighted by President Donald
Trump as he seeks to beat back a stiff reelection challenge from former Vice
President Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 polls.
Trump has sought to paint Biden as weak on China and beholden to it,
repeatedly raising questions about alleged connections between Biden's son,
Hunter, and Chinese businesses.
Amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19, Vietnam was a late addition to
Pompeo's itinerary and has numerous fears about Chinese policies in the region.
Those range from Beijing's territorial and maritime claims in the South China
Sea to its development activities along the Mekong River, which runs through
much of mainland Southeast Asia and is a regional lifeline.
In a statement released ahead of Pompeo's arrival in Vietnam, the State
Department attacked China for reneging on cooperation pledges with other Mekong
countries and for aggressively pursuing suspect claims in the South China Sea.
China's "malign and destabilizing actions in the Mekong region, including
manipulation of Mekong River water flows, negatively affect millions of people
who depend on the river for their livelihoods," it said.
"The United States stands with our Indo-Pacific allies and partners in
protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources in the South China Sea,
consistent with their rights and obligations under international law," it said.
It noted that earlier this year, Pompeo had rejected outright nearly all of
Beijing's sweeping claims in the South China Sea, including those involving
China's actions in the South China Sea, through which a third of global
shipping passes, has drawn rebuke from the United States and become a
flashpoint for a region in which Southeast Asian neighbors Vietnam, the
Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have rival claims.
China has ignored an arbitration ruling won by the Philippines that
invalidated most of Beijing's claims, and built military outposts on seven
Pompeo arrived in Vietnam from Indonesia, where he praised Indonesian
leadership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for pushing back on
what he called China's "unlawful" South China Sea claims and denounced Beijing
for its treatment of religious minorities, calling it "the gravest threat to
the future of religious freedom."
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin defended Beijing's
policies toward religious minorities and accused Pompeo of acting out of
"ideological prejudice and selfish political interests."
"We urge Pompeo to stop fabricating all kinds of lies about China and stop
using the religious issue to interfere in China's internal affairs," Wang told
reporters at a daily briefing on Friday.
While China's constitution technically protects freedom of religion, the
officially atheist Communist Party strictly limits observance, especially among
young people and those worshiping outside party-sanctioned religious bodies.
Pompeo had traveled to Indonesia from the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India on
stops where he steadily ratcheted up the pressure on Beijing, which has
rejected U.S. concerns and accused him and others in the Trump administration
of fanning the flames of a new Cold War.
In the Maldives, Pompeo announced the United States would for the first time
open an embassy in the Indian Ocean archipelago, a move that reflects growing
U.S. concern about increasing Chinese influence and what he he called "its
lawless and threatening behavior" in the Indo-Pacific region.
Just hours earlier in Sri Lanka, Pompeo had accusing China of being a
"predator" in smaller countries by exploiting them with loans and development
projects intended to benefit the Chinese more than the intended recipients.
At his first stop of the tour in India, Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark
Esper had stepped up the administration's anti-China message by playing on
Indian suspicions about the Chinese to shore up a regional front against
Beijing in the Indo-Pacific.
Just hours before the meetings in New Delhi began, the Trump administration
notified Congress of plans for a $2.37 billion sale of Harpoon missile systems
to Taiwan --- the second major arms sale in two weeks to the democratic island
that Beijing regards as a renegade province. China angrily reacted by
announcing sanctions on U.S. defense contractors.