US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday pledged to provide nearly US$300 million in new security funding for Southeast Asia, as China forges ahead with plans to bolster its engagement in the region.
Pompeo unveiled the figure to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers from 10-member ASEAN and other officials from around the world in Singapore.
“As part of our commitment to advancing regional security in the Indo-Pacific, the United States is excited to announce nearly US$300 million in new funding to reinforce security cooperation throughout the entire region,” Pompeo said.
The new security assistance would increase maritime security, develop humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping capabilities, and counter “transnational threats,” he added.
The US earlier this week said it would invest US$113 million in technology, energy and infrastructure initiatives in emerging Asia, which Pompeo called “a down payment on a new era of US economic commitment to the region.”
The US’ developing vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” comes at the same time as China ramps up its influence as part of is Belt and Road Initiative to bolster trade ties with nations in Southeast Asia and beyond.
Analysts have said that a spiraling trade dispute between Beijing and Washington could also ratchet up tensions over other regional hot spots, such as the South China Sea, to which Taiwan, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines have rival claims.
Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) told reporters at the forum that China welcomed, and was willing to work with, the US to help with faster development and better security in the region.
However, he added that the US had been sending “massive strategic weaponry” into the South China Sea and the region as a show of military might that puts pressure on China and other regional countries.
“That is the biggest force behind militarization in this region,” Wang said.
China and ASEAN on Thursday hailed a “milestone” agreement on a single working text to begin what will likely be protracted negotiations toward a code of conduct for behavior in the disputed waters.
However, critics have said that this enthusiasm for talks is a means for China to buy time and solidify its position during a period of relative dominance in the region, where it has built island bases on submerged reefs.
Pompeo told reporters that he had raised concerns at the meeting about Chinese militarization of the South China Sea and the importance of maintaining a rules-based order.
Progress toward resolving the continuing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine State and other security issues were also essential to a free and open Indo-Pacific, he said.
The use of “Indo-Pacific” has grown among diplomats from Japan, Australia, India and the US in the past few years, a shorthand for a democratic-led region, as opposed to the “Asia-Pacific” with China at its center.
China has said that its Belt and Road Initiative is about promoting the common prosperity of all nations involved, but critics have said that the signature policy of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is a bid for greater political clout.
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