Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the Trump administration’s anti-China message on the road this week and wrapped up his five-day tour of Asia in Vietnam on Friday. Pompeo was more reserved in Vietnam with his rhetoric than he was in previous visits and called for a stronger relationship between Washington and Hanoi.
“We look forward to continuing to work together to build on our relationship and to make the region — throughout Southeast Asia, Asia and the Indo-Pacific — safe and peaceful and prosperous,” Pompeo said alongside Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Phuc said he hopes for “sincere cooperation” between the two countries to support a peaceful region. Although China was not mentioned by name in Friday’s public comments, the State Department issued a statement ahead of Pompeo’s visit slamming Beijing for activities in the Mekong River and the South China Sea, where China and Vietnam have overlapping claims.
The State Department attacked China for damming parts of the Mekong River. China’s “malign and destabilizing actions in the Mekong region, including manipulation of Mekong River water flows, negatively affect millions of people who depend on the river for their livelihoods,” the statement said.
Concerning the South China Sea, the State Department said the US “stands with our Indo-Pacific allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources in the South China Sea.”
In July, the Trump administration formally rejected most of China’s claims to the South China Sea.
The US frequently sails warships into the disputed waters to counter Beijing. With US-China tensions at their highest point in decades, the region has seen a significant uptick in US military activity.
Vietnam recently requested talks with Beijing over the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea.
This week, Pompeo visited India, Sri Lanks, the Maldives, and Indonesia. In India, Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed a military agreement that will give India more access to satellite data to increase the accuracy of its missiles and drones. In the Maldives, Pompeo said the US will open an embassy in the archipelago country for the first time.