U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday tackled several of the country’s most critical foreign policy concerns in the Asia-Pacific region at the 52nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) in Bangkok, Thailand.
Tasked with conveying a message of assurance over U.S. power and influence across Southeast Asia, the U.S. Secretary of State met with allies and rivals on his Asia-Pacific trip.
During a press conference at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Summit, Pompeo addressed trade disputes with China, North Korea denuclearization, and China’s activities on the Mekong River as well as China’s secret agreement with Cambodia that would allow Beijing to boost its military power in the region.
U.S.-China Trade Talks
Pompeo told reporters that the U.S. is finalizing “a set of trade negotiations” with China as he met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bangkok.
“My meeting with my Chinese counterpart today was as always professional,” said Pompeo. “We each are aimed at the singular objective of making sure that the relationship between the two countries is successful.”
He said Washington is working with Beijing to resolve the continuing tariff war between the two nations.
The U.S. Secretary of State stated they are “working with them on many fronts, but we were also very candid about the places we are hoping China will behave in ways that they are not behaving today.”
North Korea Denuclearization
Pompeo stated Washington is “ready” to restart “diplomatic conversation with the North Koreans on denuclearization, after reports that North Korea had conducted a second missile test in a week.
Pompeo expressed regret that he is not going to have an opportunity to do that in Bangkok. But Washington is “ready to go” ahead with talks, added Pompeo. He expressed hope that Chairman Kim Jong Un would deploy his team to meet with U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun to resume the dialogue that the two leaders, President Donald J. Trump and Kim, had embarked on back in Singapore in summer 2018.
Pompeo also told reporters that all countries must have “respect for national sovereignty” and the “rule of law,” when expressing concern over Chinese activities in the region.
Mekong River, Cambodia
“The United States welcomes Cambodia’s strong defenses of its national sovereignty and we encourage other nations in the region to follow Cambodia’s lead in protecting it,” said Pompeo.
Pompeo stated both he and Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai agreed “that respect for national sovereignty, the rule of law and sustainability are non-negotiable principles by which must all engage.” And “all nations must engage with the Mekong and its associated waterways,” said Pompeo.
China invested heavily in hydroelectric projects on the Mekong River and signed a secret agreement with Cambodia for exclusive rights to use a Cambodian navy base that would allow Beijing to boost its ability to exert greater military power in the region.
During the press conference, Pompeo also voiced support for Japan and South Korea in helping to resolve recent tensions.
“We hope that they will find a way to move forward together. Those are both, Japan and South Korea, both incredibly important relationships,” said Pompeo.
The U.S. Secretary of State continued, “They relate back closely to what I spoke about in the first part of your question about North Korea. We’re very hopeful that those two countries will, together themselves, find a path forward, a way to ease the tension that has risen between them over these past handful of weeks.”
Pompeo’s central message at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bangkok is clear and candid.
The U.S. Secretary of State says Washington is not asking any Asian country to take sides in the region and especially in the long-standing maritime disputes, in which China is contending for power and aggressively expanding territorial claims in the South China Sea.