HANOI, July 14 (Reuters) – The United States rejects China’s “illegal” maritime claims in the South China Sea and backs Southeast Asian countries facing Chinese “coercion”, said Wednesday. State Secretary Antony Blinken.
China has dismissed Blinken’s comments, which he made in a speech during a video conference with foreign ministers of the Association of Southeastern Nations (ASEAN), as irresponsible and aimed at causing discord .
Blinken also said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the situation in Myanmar and urged the group to take action to end the violence and restore democracy there.
The meeting with the 10-member bloc, which includes Myanmar, is the first since the Biden administration took office in January and comes as diplomats and others fear Washington is not paying enough attention to a region which is crucial for its strategy against an increasingly assertive China.
ASEAN has been leading the main diplomatic effort on Myanmar since a February 1 coup plunged it into turmoil.
Myanmar’s junta has shown little sign of attention to what ASEAN called a five-point consensus, reached in April, that seeks to end violence, political talks and the appointment of an envoy regional special in Myanmar.
Blinken urged ASEAN to take “immediate action” on the consensus and appoint the envoy, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Blinken has called for the release of all those “unfairly detained” in Myanmar and the reestablishment of its democratic transition, Price said.
On the disputed South China Sea, Blinken highlighted US rejection of China’s “illegal maritime claims” and said the US “stands with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of coercion.” , Price said.
China said the comments were aimed at derailing regional peace and stability.
“It is extremely irresponsible of the United States to deliberately provoke controversy over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights in the South China Sea, sowing discord between China and ASEAN countries,” the door said. -speak of Chinese Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian at a briefing in Beijing.
China claims vast swathes of the South China Sea via its unilaterally declared U-shaped “nine-dash line” that straddles the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines, all members of ASEAN.
Billions of dollars in trade pass through the waterway each year, which also contains rich fishing grounds and gas fields.
In addition to the South China Sea, the Mekong River has emerged as a new front in the US-China rivalry, with Beijing overtaking Washington in spending and influence over downstream countries at the mercy of its control of the river’s waters. .
Price said Blinken “is committed to continuing to support the United States for a free and open Mekong region as part of the Mekong-United States partnership.”
Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he hoped Wednesday’s meeting would mark a “renewed commitment” to US multilateral cooperation.
“We understand that multilateralism was not a key goal for the previous administration, but the Biden administration’s adherence to multilateral cooperation is a welcome development,” Hishammuddin said, according to a copy of his speech.
“This path is the only way forward to ensure the stability, peace, prosperity and security of our region. “
Reporting by James Pearson; Additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur, Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel
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