Washington has pledged a package of more than 150 million dollars to ASEAN leaders.

As Reuters reported on May 13, besides infrastructure, security, and pandemic readiness, the package will bolster efforts to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.

In the South China Sea, China is engaged in sovereignty disputes with at least four ASEAN states, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia.

The U.S. Coast Guard will deploy resources and assign extra personnel to the Indo-Pacific for maritime training and capacity-building. It will send a cutter to Southeast Asia and Oceania for regional security.

ASEAN countries will also receive assistance in combating illegal, unreported, and unauthorized fishing. A practice these nations commonly observed from Chinese vessels in their claimed exclusive economic zone.

A senior U.S. administration official said that the U.S. is not asking countries to make a choice between the United States and China. Instead, it is trying to make clear that the United States seeks stronger relationships.

According to the South China Morning Post, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China is also looking to reach an agreement with ASEAN states over a code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea.

About Washington’s move, the Chinese foreign ministry said it supports any partnership that advances the region’s long-term development and prosperity.

Ministry spokesman Zhao nonetheless noted, “China and ASEAN do not engage in zero-sum games and do not promote bloc confrontation.”

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