South China Sea: Beijing warns Asean members against backing ‘troublemaker’ US in region

South China Sea: Beijing warns Asean members against backing ‘troublemaker’ US in region

  • Luo Zhaohui, deputy foreign minister for Asian affairs, makes remarks ahead of crucial talks on a code of conduct for the disputed waterway
  • He also takes aim at Washington’s partners in the Indo-Pacific, describing the Quad alliance as ‘an anti-China front line’

Beijing has dialled up the pressure on its Southeast Asian neighbours ahead of key talks in the South China Sea dispute, with a senior diplomat warning them against backing US efforts in the region.

Luo Zhaohui, China’s deputy foreign minister for Asian affairs, also said negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a code of conduct in the waterway would resume on Thursday after being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The talks began in 2002 but have stalled over Beijing’s insistence that “countries outside the region” be excluded, an apparent reference to the United States. Asean nations are increasingly torn between the feuding superpowers amid a growing risk of an all-out confrontation in the region.

Speaking by video link at an international seminar hosted by the foreign ministry and a state-backed think tank on Wednesday, Luo said the US was the root of the problems in the South China Sea.

But observers said his tough remarks on Washington may be counterproductive as Beijing tries to win support from its neighbours – in both the talks and its rivalry with the US – since he did not offer any new ways to address their concerns.

Luo, China’s former ambassador to New Delhi, also took aim at Washington’s allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, particularly those who have voiced support for US President Donald Trump’s stronger stance on Beijing over the disputed waterway and many other hot-button issues.

“Apart from its interference in the South China Sea, the US established the Quad, an anti-China front line also known as the mini Nato. This reflects the Cold War mentality of the US,” Luo said, referring to the US-led quadrilateral grouping with Japan, Australia and India.