US President Donald Trump and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc said the disputed South China Sea has a strategic significance for the international community and any “unlawful” restriction on the freedom of the seas will destabilise peace in the Asia-Pacific region. The two leaders underscored the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the seas, amid China’s expansionist behaviour in the disputed region. They affirmed their support for the peaceful resolution of disputes – “without threat or use of force or coercion” -in accordance with the international law, according to a joint statement issued after their meeting here yesterday. The two leaders urged “all parties” involved in the South China Sea dispute to implement their “international legal obligations in good faith” and refrain from actions that would escalate tensions, such as the militarisation of disputed features.
Trump stressed that the US will “continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows.” Phuc is the first Southeast Asia leader to visit the White House since Trump’s presidential inauguration in January. Vietnam could emerge as a key player in the US’s long-term Southeast Asia push aimed at neutralising Beijing’s influence in the South China Sea, where China has territorial disputes with several countries, including Vietnam. Ironically, Phuc’s visit to the US comes at a time when Trump has appeared to have relaxed his strings on China after reportedly securing business deals with the country he accused of manipulating currency during his presidential campaign.
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Trump, however, yesterday reaffirmed the US’s commitment to the US-ASEAN Strategic Partnership, and to supporting common efforts in developing a rules-based ASEAN community and ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a regional grouping of 10 Southeast Asian states. It promote Pan Asianism, intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic and political integration amongst its members. The US president said the US and Vietnam were already in discussion on some major topics, including trade. “They’ve just made a very large order on the US and we appreciate that, for many billions of dollars, which means jobs for the US and great… equipment for Vietnam,” he said.
Phuc said ties between Vietnam and the US have undergone significant upheavals in history, but they have also improved a lot. He said he was “very impressed” with Trump’s “openness and friendliness.” The two leaders also expressed their concern for North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme, which, they said, violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and escalate tensions in the region. Reaffirming their support for denuclearising the Korean Peninsula, they called for strict implementation of all relevant UNSC resolutions against Pyongyang.