HANOI (Reuters) – The United States’ top diplomat on Thursday urged Southeast Asian countries to stand up to maritime bullying by China and to reassess business deals with its state firms, adding to heated exchanges between two powers jostling for influence.
Speaking remotely to foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the region should be confident in the United States and know it can bank on its support.
“Today, I say keep going. Don’t just speak up but act,” Pompeo said. “Reconsider business dealings with the very state-owned enterprises that bully ASEAN coastal states in the South China Sea. Don’t let the Chinese Communist Party walk over us and our people.”
ASEAN has said it does not want to take sides amid friction over a recent spike in military activities by both powers in the South China Sea and ahead of a November election in which U.S. President Donald Trump will trumpet his tough stand against China.
Asked about China-U.S. tensions on Tuesday in an interview with Reuters, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said: “We don’t want to get trapped by this rivalry.”