BEIJING on Saturday vowed to maintain its military presence in the South China Sea, insisting the US is “the biggest force for militarisation in this region” after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged US$300 million to boost security in the Indo-Pacific.
The investment is part of US efforts to counter China’s influence in the region, but Beijing and regional analysts said the amount was too small to have any real impact.
Pompeo made the announcement in Singapore at the annual meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers, which finishes on Saturday.
It comes amid growing economic and geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States. Beijing on Friday said it would impose 5 to 25 per cent tariffs on US$60 billion worth of American goods, in response to a US threat to slap duties on US$200 billion of Chinese products.
Also in Singapore, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the tariffs were “a necessary and a justified response … in the interests of the Chinese people”.
Pompeo said the US tariffs and its tussle with China were part of Washington’s efforts to correct “an unfair trade regime where American workers in American companies are not treated reciprocally or fairly by the Chinese”.
Washington has also been stepping up pressure on Beijing on the security front. Speaking on the sidelines of the Asean meeting, Pompeo said the additional US$300 million in security assistance would be used to advance US priorities, especially strengthening maritime security, developing humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping capabilities.
The US secretary of state announced an initial US$113 million budget for Indo-Pacific development before he left for his five-day Asia trip. He described that as a “down payment” on Washington’s commitment to the region, stressing that the Indo-Pacific was an important engine for economic growth.