World

Pompeo to Asean: Stand up to China's bullying in South China Sea

Secretary of State Pompeo urges grouping to cut ties with firms helping build islands in the disputed waters

HANOI: The United States' top diplomat urged South-east Asian countries to stand up to maritime bullying by China and reassess business deals with its state firms, adding to heated exchanges between the two powers jostling for influence.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the comments at the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) meeting yesterday, which was overshadowed by the US-China rivalry over a range of issues, from trade to the coronavirus.

He urged Asean to cut ties with Chinese companies helping build islands in the South China Sea, weeks after the US blacklisted two dozen firms working in the disputed waters.

"Don't just speak up, but act," he told the 10 foreign ministers during a virtual meeting. "Reconsider business dealings with the very state-owned companies that bully Asean coastal states in the South China Sea.

"Don't let the Chinese Communist party walk over us and our people."

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed the US for tensions, claiming Washington was "becoming the biggest driver" of the waterway's militarisation.

Mr Wang said China's greatest interest in the waters was "peace and stability", while accusing the US of "creating tension and seeking profit from it".

"The United States is becoming the most dangerous factor damaging peace in the South China Sea," Mr Wang said, according to state news agency Xinhua yesterday.

China claims most of the South China Sea, a key waterway for world trade.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all contest parts of China's declared territory in the sea.

Meanwhile, the US has revoked visas for more than 1,000 Chinese students and researchers deemed security risks, the State Department said on Wednesday.

A spokesman said those denied visas were "a small subset" of Chinese coming to the US for study and research, and that legitimate students and scholars would continue to be welcome. About 360,000 Chinese study in the US.

In Beijing yesterday, a foreign ministry spokesman described the US move as "naked" political persecution and racial discrimination that seriously violated human rights.

"China reserves the right to make a further response on this issue," he told a daily media briefing. - REUTERS, AFP

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