Pompeo Ends China-Knocking Tour of Asia With Stop in Vietnam
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ended an Asian tour focused on criticism of Beijing with a last-minute stop in Vietnam, which is tangled in disputes with its neighbor China in the South China Sea.
In India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia this week, Mr. Pompeo warned officials and citizens about China’s actions and policies in the region, urging democracies to stick together. In Communist-led Vietnam, the top U.S. diplomat made no explicit public remarks about Beijing, but said he backed the country’s sovereignty.
“We have enormous respect for the Vietnamese people and your country’s sovereignty,” Mr. Pompeo said Friday before a meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. “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.”
Vietnam’s offshore oil-and-gas projects face pressure from Beijing, which claims almost all of the South China Sea. The two countries were involved in a tense maritime standoff last year that lasted more than three months. The U.S. accused Beijing at the time of trying to strong-arm Vietnam.
Mr. Phuc said he was grateful to the U.S. for assistance with the coronavirus pandemic and expressed interest in improving trade and investment ties with the country. Vietnam hopes to draw Western companies seeking to diversify their manufacturing operations out of China.
The Trump administration has increasingly confronted Beijing about a range of issues from its human rights record to China’s actions in the South China Sea and toward Taiwan. President Trump has relied on a tough-on-China message in his 2016 and 2020 election campaigns.
On Thursday in Indonesia, Mr. Pompeo spoke to a Muslim youth group, urging Indonesians to call out China over its treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority.
A day earlier in Sri Lanka, where the government has friendly relations with Beijing, Mr. Pompeo warned that the Chinese Communist Party is behaving as a “predator” in the region. The Chinese embassy in Colombo fired back by tweeting a promotional image for the “Aliens vs. Predator” videogame and saying Beijing is more interested in “promoting #China-#SriLanka friendship and cooperation.”
On Tuesday in India, Mr. Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Espersigned a defense pact on satellite-data cooperation with their Indian counterparts.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin earlier this week said most countries thought of China as an opportunity, not a threat. He said Mr. Pompeo’s “lies and smears” wouldn’t change the fact China is committed to peaceful development.
The stop in Vietnam was announced only after Mr. Pompeo had left Washington. Vietnamese officials said they invited Mr. Pompeo to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic ties between the countries.
Vietnam is among the region’s most successful at bringing the coronavirus under control and had public-health restrictions in place during the visit. American travelers weren’t allowed to leave the hotel except to attend the planned meetings. The U.S. delegation was greeted by staffers in blue protective suits and received tests for the coronavirus after arriving.