Accusing China of posing an “unprecedented threat” to the Indo-Pacific region, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has declared that the US was strengthening its policies there and dismissed Beijing’s maritime claims against its neighbours.
He said on Monday, “The United States champions a free and open Indo-Pacific. Today we are strengthening US policy in a vital, contentious part of that region — the South China Sea.”
“In the South China Sea, we seek to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law, maintain the unimpeded flow of commerce, and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes,” his statement said.
He said that Washington was making clear to Beijing that its claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea “are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them”.
Pompeo categorically dismissed all the various claims China has made in south-east Asia involving Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei.
With the failure to make progress before the November elections in the trade negotiations on which President Donald Trump had expended a lot of diplomacy and the China-originated Covid-19 economic catastrophe, Washington is on the offensive, especially because under the cover of the pandemic Beijing has become more aggressive towards its neighbours.
Pompeo has put several Chinese officials under a visa ban over Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong, human rights violations of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, interference in the South China Sea and trade restrictions.
He has launched a campaign to stop its technology inroads into countries, particularly the advanced 5G cell phone system, and warned of the dangers of its aid programmes that in reality push the recipients into a debt trap that forces them to hand over their resources.
Washington has imposed restrictions on Beijing’s access to US technology.
The US has also sent three aircraft carrier strike groups that include other ships to the Indo-Pacific zone in a show of force.
Pompeo said last week that the Chinese confrontation in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh was a part of a pattern of Beijing’s aggressiveness and said the world must unite to confront it.
In his statement on Monday, Pompeo said the 2016 decisions of the arbitration tribunal set up under the Law of the Sea Convention, which China has signed, should stand.
In recent months, China has sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat, interfered with a Malaysian exploration vessel and intrusions by Chinese boats in Indonesian maritime economic zone.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @arulouis)