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International relations

Pompeo in Vietnam warns Beijing over South China Sea

US secretary of state meets Vietnam Prime Minister Phuc in Hanoi

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. The U.S. is courting Vietnam as it expands its "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" strategy.   © AP

HANOI -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is wrapping up a tour of Southeast and South Asia in Vietnam, where he again sought to counter the growing influence of China, only days before President Donald Trump faces challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden in the U.S. presidential election.

"We look forward to continuing to work together to build on our relationship and to make the region -- throughout Southeast Asia, Asia and the Indo-Pacific -- safe and peaceful and prosperous," Pompeo said on Friday, according to Reuters, in greeting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi.

Phuc responded by asking for "sincere cooperation" from the U.S. in support of a peaceful region and progress in trade and investment ties, Reuters said.

Pompeo also met Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.

Vietnam, currently serving as the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is in a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea. As ASEAN-related summit meetings, including an East Asia Summit, are slated for mid-November, Pompeo is angling to strengthen Washington's ties with Hanoi.

Pompeo is visiting Vietnam on the pretext of attending a ceremony to commemorate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries.

The U.S. and Vietnam normalized relations in 1995, some 20 years after the end of the Vietnam War. They are now drawing together in the field of security as China gains influence in Southeast and South Asia, and makes aggressive claims in the South China Sea.

U.S.-Vietnam economic relations are also strengthening. The U.S. is Vietnam's biggest export market, buying $62.3 billion from the Southeast Asian nation in the first 10 months of 2020, up 24% from a year earlier.

Vietnam, meanwhile, is expected to be an important market for future U.S. exports of aircraft materials and liquefied natural gas derived from shale oil.

Among the 10 ASEAN member countries, Vietnam is considered to have the toughest anti-China stance.

The country has drawn more than the U.S.'s attention. Yoshihide Suga, who last month became Japan's prime minister, made Vietnam his first overseas trip after taking office.

Japan and the U.S. have affirmed cooperation with Australia and India in promoting the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" strategy. Vietnam is being courted to share the strategy.

Pompeo's Asian tour did not initially include Vietnam. His Hanoi leg was announced on Wednesday, the last stop of a tour that also included Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives and Indonesia.

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