MANILA, Philippines — Beijing’s economic strategy cannot be separated from its security efforts in the South China Sea, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said.
Speaking at a forum in Washington, the top American diplomat noted that the trade between the US and China has not been “remotely reciprocal.”
“But the threats that — the security threats — and I don’t want to separate the two. There’s a security component to that as well. But the security threats more narrowly defined are very real” Pompeo said.
The two countries recently concluded trade talks in Beijing, which US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin described as “constructive.” The US and China have been engaged in a trade war for previous months.
Pompeo noted that Washington seeks to fix its trade relations with Beijing, which has its own security threats.
Beijing’s expansion in the disputed South China Sea is not beacuse they are concerned in preserving freedom of navigation, Pompeo said.
“Their efforts to build ports around the world aren’t because they want to be good shipbuilders and stewards of waterways, but rather they have a state national security element to each and every one of them,” Pompeo said.
Last year, China had installed anti-cruise ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and radio jamming equipment on its artificial islands in the Spratlys, which are also being claimed by the Philippines.
The connection between China’s moves on trade with the US and militarization of the South China Sea is “no different” from the Belt and Road Initiative, the US official said.
“We’ve said this every place we’ve gone, every – if you talk to any of our ambassadors or our charges, they will tell you we are happy to compete on a fair, transparent basis under rule of law with the Chinese anywhere in the world,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo mentioned the risks of availing China’s loan offers, which the world is “waking up to.”
“But when you’re showing up with a non-economic offer, whether that’s through state-facilitated, below-market pricing or handing someone something knowing that you can foreclose on their nation shortly, so predatory lending practices, that’s not straight and we are working diligently to make sure everyone in the world understands that threat,” he said.
The Philippines is among the countries that availed China’s loan offer through the Belt and Road Initiative. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Manila in November, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative.
Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, shared the same sentiments on China’s economic and security strategy.
In a US House of Representatives hearing earlier this week, Davidson told lawmakers that China representes the “greatest long-term strategic threat” to the US.
“China is using a variety of methods, including pernicious lending schemes like One Belt One Road, and promising loans or grants to extend their diplomatic and political reach by gaining leverage against the borrower’s sovereignty,” Davidson told the House armed services committee.
Davidson also warned that aside from its military deployments in the South China Sea, Beijing has also been testing advanced capabilities such as fifth generation aircraft, hypersonics, aircraft carriers and counter-space technologies.
“Through fear and coercion, Beijing is working to expand its form of communist-socialist ideology in order to bend, break, and replace the existing rules-based international order and prevent a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Davidson said.