BANGKOK—A U.S. envoy denounced Chinese “intimidation” in the South China Sea at a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders on Nov. 4 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,” U.S. envoy Robert O’Brien told the ASEAN-U.S. 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.
O’Brien said the disputes over territorial waters claimed by China and several Southeast Asian countries should be handled peacefully.
“We don’t think they should be handled by intimidation or through maritime militias or by random ships or by surrounding islands,” O’Brien said. “That’s just not how things should be done in the 21st century. That’s conquest.”
Nevertheless, O’Brien said Washington sought a “great relationship” with China, saying the two sides were close to a “phase one” agreement to begin to roll back a 16-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
The Chinese regime claims that it has historical ownership over nearly the entire region, which gives it the right to manufacture islands, declare defensive perimeters around its artificial islands, and to chase ships from other nations out of the South China Sea.
However, on July 12, 2016, an arbitration court in The Hague found the Chinese regime’s claims to be false. In the U.N. tribunal’s ruling, China’s claims to virtually the entirety of the South China Sea were dismissed by the 5-member tribunal as having no historical basis. It was also determined that the multiple artificial islands that have been built by and used as bases by the Chinese military do not constitute territory entitled to zones of economic exclusivity. Rather, they were found to be in violation of the sovereignty of the Philippines. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) immediately rejected the tribunal’s decision.
Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims to the waterway, through which passes about a third of global seaborne trade.
O’Brien 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-U.S. summit for the past two years, sending Vice President Mike Pence in 2018.
At this year’s summit, U.S. 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.
By Kay Johnson. The Epoch Times contributed to this report.