US pledges nearly $300 million in security funding for Southeast Asia

US Secretary of State Pompeo calls on Dr Mahathir

US Secretary of State Pompeo calls on Dr Mahathir

Yet, in an apparent reference to China, Pompeo said Washington will "oppose" any country that seeks dominance in the region. "This is a breakthrough for the COC (code of conduct) negotiation".

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks to the media after bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Singapore August 2, 2018.

"The United States is a Pacific nation, and we remain committed to ASEAN centrality under our Indo-Pacific strategy", he said.

The draft however showed that Beijing wanted to stage military drills with ASEAN in the seas that excluded outside countries, a move analysts said was aimed at diminishing USA influence.

Asean and China had yesterday agreed to the Single Draft Code of Conduct (CoC) Negotiating Text, a document that will form the basis for future negotiations.

Thailand, one of Washington's oldest allies, is another major regional power perceived to have moved closer to China after US relations came under strain because of concerns about freedoms under its military-dominated government.

Since the beginning of the year, Ri has visited China, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Sweden.

US Secretary of State Pompeo calls on Dr Mahathir
China, Southeast Asian states hold simulated naval drill

A total of three Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) centres in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are set to be upgraded into Singapore Cooperation Centres which will feature an expanded "range of technical assistance and offer new modalities for capacity building".

"We will use these drills as a starting point to expand China and Asean's military communications and security cooperation, to together face security concerns and to protect the stability of the region", Wang told a news conference.

However, it was too early to say when negotiations would be complete, he added. Can the United States and the ASEAN nations keep a determined China out of the Indo-Pacific?

Asean pledged its commitment to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that includes China, saying it will form a "centerpiece of its external economic relations, particularly at a time of growing uncertainties in global trade". They said the two sides would first try to craft easier provisions before moving on to contentious ones, such as whether the accord should be legally binding and its geographic scope.

China and ASEAN have held talks for years to try to ease tensions and prevent the disputes from degenerating into open conflicts. "You have countries with very close ties with China and those more cautious of China", said Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University.

Concerns over ongoing nuclear and missile activity in North Korea surged after The Washington Post reported Tuesday that USA intelligence officials believe Pyongyang is continuing to build new missiles in the same research facility it used to build intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States.




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