After U.S.-China Rancor, Asean Nations Wary of Fraught Relations

Southeast Asian countries don’t want to be caught between competing major countries, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said at the conclusion of virtual meetings this week that featured flare-ups between the U.S. and China.

“Asean nations don’t want to be stuck between the competition between countries,” said Minh, who’s also deputy prime minister, without naming the U.S. or China. “Asean countries want all countries around the world and those in the region to play constructive contributions, supporting and promoting peace and stability of Southeast Asia.”

Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia have been locked in territorial disputes with China that have impacted their ability to extract fish, oil and gas from offshore areas. The tensions overshadowed a virtual summit with foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their partners during the week. Vietnam holds the bloc’s rotating chairmanship this year.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Southeast Asian foreign ministers the U.S. was intervening in territorial disputes and strengthening its military deployment in the contested area “out of its own political purposes,” according to a statement posted by China’s Foreign Ministry.

A day later, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called on Southeast Asian countries to review ties with Chinese state-owned enterprises amid territorial disputes in the sea.

The territorial clashes have “always been a matter of concern at Asean conferences because the South China Sea is one of the most important maritime routes in the world, related to the interests of all countries both inside and outside the region,” Minh said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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