Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo pleaded on Friday for Southeast Asian nations to trust US values, leading to a drop in China's leadership in a region that considers its backyard.
The US Secretary of State said decades of US alliances and investment have helped Asia move from poverty to prosperity while exhibiting the Trump administration's “Indo-Pacifica” strategy in Bancoque.
In support of state-owned companies over disputes over contested territories, Pompeo pointed to China's actions and motivations in Southeast Asia, stepping back in comments on Thursday in which he told regional diplomats not to "pick" sides among the superpowers.
“Our investments do not serve a government… (they) do not serve a political party,” he said of the Chinese Communist Party.
Beijing regards Southeast Asia as its “neighborhood,” where its economic, political and military power has given it primacy, with massive infrastructure and investment schemes throughout the region.
But smaller powers also accuse China of burdening debt, as well as aggression in the disputed South China Sea, where military buildup threatens the claims of several nations for strategically crucial waters.
The US wants the South China Sea, one of the world's most important sea lanes, to remain open.
Rejecting a strong response to China's advance in Southeast Asia, Pompeo said: "We are not building roads to pave its national sovereignty ... We do not fund bridges to close loyalty gaps."
His speech came hours after President Donald Trump promised to put 10 percent of new tariffs on 300 billion dollars on Chinese products, in a sharp escalation of trade war between the two superpowers.
In brief panel comments following his speech, Pompeo accused China of "protectionism" and "predatory tactics" to give its companies an edge in global markets.
"China has taken advantage of trade ... It's time to stop," he said.
"I think that's what you saw this morning," he added, referring to Trump's latest dam on Chinese products.
He also maintained Washington's position of non-interference in the massive protests against the government that engulfed Hong Kong, a Chinese territory.
“I hope the way things will continue in Hong Kong… is not violent.”
Asked what the US response would be to a Chinese military intervention in the financial center, he said: “One thing this government has been really good about is not to lean our hands on what we will or will not do. And I'll do it here this morning. “
Pompeo is in Bangkok to attend the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting.