On Tuesday, US officials accused China of bullying and insincerity in its dealings with Southeast Asian nations but said Washington isn’t forcing the region to choose sides between the two world powers.
State David Stilwell, US Assistant Secretary, emphasized American resolve in maintaining its presence in the region and preventing “unwelcomed and certainly unhelpful military adventurism”, including in the disputed South China Sea.
Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister lashed back at the US in last week’s ASEAN meetings, saying Washington was the “biggest driver of militarization” and the “most dangerous factor damaging peace” in the region.
Wang said, “The US deployed military aircraft in nearly 3,000 sorties and more than 60 warships in the disputed region in the first half of the year.” He is now accusing the US of driving a wedge between China and rival South China Sea claimant states and of undercutting Chinese attempts to resolve disputes through ASEAN.
Last week, US and Chinese officials squared off in annual meetings of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The five countries belong to the 10-nation ASEAN, which has often been caught in the US-China regional rivalry.
Four member states – Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia – are locked in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
Stilwell said, “We often hear from our ASEAN friends and others this desire to ‘don’t make us choose”.
He added, If China “brings stability and it brings positive outcomes and it respects the sovereignty of ASEAN partners, then we have no objection. China’s track record is not good.”
Stilwell said, “Chinese insincerity is best illustrated in its aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, where it has turned disputed reefs into weaponized artificial island outposts despite a commitment not to militarize the region.”
Washington has encouraged the affected countries – Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos – to hold China accountable, he said.
Stilwell said Beijing’s control of dams along the upper Mekong River has “harmed the livelihood of tens of millions of people in Southeast Asian communities up and down the Mekong region basin.”