BANGKOK. — A US envoy denounced Chinese “intimidation” in the South China Sea at a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders on Monday and invited them to a special summit in Washington on behalf of President Donald Trump.
China has made sweeping maritime claims in the resource-rich waters of the South China Sea, and angered neighbors by sending ships into the busy waterway, where several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also have claims.
“Beijing has used intimidation to try to stop ASEAN nations from exploiting the off-shore resources, blocking access to 2.5 trillion dollars of oil and gas reserves alone,” US envoy Robert O’Brien told the ASEAN-US summit in a speech.
“The region has no interest in a new imperial era where a big country can rule others on a theory that might makes right,” added O’Brien, the White House national security adviser.
He also read a message from Trump inviting the ASEAN leaders to “join me in the United States for a special summit, meeting at a time of mutual convenience in the first quarter of 2020.”
Trump has skipped the ASEAN-US summit for the past two years, sending Vice President Mike Pence in 2018.
At this year’s summit, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was the highest-ranking delegation official, prompting the 10-member ASEAN to downgrade the summit to a “troika” attended only by top leaders from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
On Sunday, Chinese premier Li Keqiang said China is ready to work with Southeast Asian countries for long-term peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Aside from China, the other claimants are the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Li, after meeting ASEAN leaders on Sunday in Bangkok, cited progress on a long-awaited South China Sea code of conduct, due for completion within three years.
A legally binding code has long been a goal for ASEAN members sparring over what they see as China’s disregard of sovereign rights and its obstruction of their energy exploration and fishing. — Reuters