U.S Deputy Assistant Secretary of State denounces China for undermining Indo-Pacific security

  • Editor: Víctor Torres
  • Translator: 小木头

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Autl Keshap, serving as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the United States Department of State, delivered a speech at the CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) Asian Architecture Conference 2020, in which he extensively denounced China for undermining the regional security and stability, and discussed U.S. priorities and reiterated that the Indo-Pacific is critical to achieving the goals of the National Security Strategy.

PRC Destabilizing Actions

Keshap criticized China has exploited the COVID-19 crisis with destabilizing action and has chosen a different path from a free and open Indo-Pacific. There is a region-wide concern over Beijing’s assault on the autonomy of its neighbors and on the rules-based system that has underpinned global prosperity and peace for decades.

South China Sea

Ambassador Keshap stated, “In the South China Sea, Beijing’s unlawful maritime claims and its intimidation of ASEAN coastal states are unacceptable.

In 2015, General Secretary Xi Jinping stood in the White House Rose Garden and stated “China does not intend to pursue militarization” of the Spratly Islands, and China’s outposts would not “target or impact any country.” Beijing instead pursued a reckless and provocative militarization of those disputed outposts: they have deployed anti-ship cruise missiles, expanded military radar and signal intelligence capabilities, constructed dozens of fighter jet hangars, and have built runways capable of accommodating combat aircraft.

The PRC uses these militarized outposts as platforms of coercion to assert control over waters to which Beijing has no lawful maritime claim. They serve as staging grounds for the hundreds of maritime militia vessels and China Coast Guard ships that regularly harass civilian craft and impede legitimate law enforcement activities, offshore fishing, and hydrocarbon development by neighboring states.

Since 2013, the PRC has undertaken massive dredging to build up more than 3,000 acres across the South China Sea, causing untold destruction to coral reefs and fisheries, all in an attempt to further Beijing’s unlawful maritime claims.

Beijing has sought to scare away the competition for oil and gas resources, then push other states in the South China Sea to accept what it calls “joint development” deals with its own state-owned firms, essentially saying “If you want to develop those resources off your coast, your only option is to do so with us.” This is extortion, plain and simple.

In June, ASEAN leaders stressed that maritime disputes like these and a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea must rely on international law, including UNCLOS. We support that.

This year, we strengthened our approach to the South China Sea, rejecting China’s unlawful maritime claims and imposing costs on executives and state-owned firms that further them.  Since then, an unprecedented number of countries, including six of the 18 EAS members, have rejected China’s South China Sea claims at the UN.”


Ambassador Keshap said, “we have seen reports that a maritime security facility was demolished at Ream Naval Base in Cambodia. We are concerned that razing the facility may be tied to plans for hosting PRC military assets and personnel at Ream. A permanent PRC military presence in Cambodia would be disruptive and destabilizing to the Indo-Pacific region and could undermine the freedom of navigation and overflight.

In a November 2019 letter, the President opened the door to discussing ways to increase U.S.-Cambodia cooperation that protects the autonomy of Cambodia and reflects the will of the Cambodian people. We hope that Prime Minister Hun Sen will take us up on our offer for dialogue. We would welcome a dialogue about Cambodia’s needs, and to identify how we can support infrastructure at Ream that would benefit an independent Cambodia and all nations supportive of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”


Keshap pointed out that, the Mekong region faces several challenges, including historic droughts exacerbated by Beijing’s choke hold of Mekong River flows, and its ties to infrastructure-linked debt and a significant increase in transnational crime and trafficking in persons, drugs, arms, and wildlife. Beijing is increasingly applying its South China Sea playbook – coercion, disinformation, and contempt for rules – throughout the region.

U.S has a playbook as well: supporting the prosperity, autonomy, and security of our friends and allies. That’s why we were thrilled to join with our Mekong partners to launch the Mekong-U.S. Partnership in September. The Partnership follows the hugely successful Lower Mekong Initiative, and will support a deeper, more strategic relationship with the five countries of the Mekong. The Partnership will continue our long-time work on water governance, which is not simply a technical issue for the peoples of the Mekong but an existential one with over 60 million people depending on the River for their livelihoods.

“I mentioned Beijing’s unilateral manipulation of upstream water flows through its network of 11 mega-dams. I’ve been told that these dams hold enough water to fill the entire Chesapeake Bay or provide water to all 8.3 million residents of New York City for 35 years.”

Until recently, China has refused to share year-round data on its dam operations. Its unilateral withholding of water has exacerbated historic droughts and contributed to devastating economic impacts on tens of millions of people.

In response to requests from the Mekong countries, Beijing recently announced its intention to share year-round water data with the Mekong River Commission. This is a start, but regional experts point out the limited scope of the data Beijing is providing, which falls short of the comprehensive and year-round hydro logical data necessary for downstream planning and water resources management. Then there are also the challenges for Mekong stakeholders to independently verify the PRC’s data. Beijing needs to do better.

The PRC’s unilateral manipulation of upstream dams is just one of a number of the troubling trends I mentioned. We hear from communities in the Mekong that are concerned about infrastructure-linked debt and the predatory business practices of Beijing’s state-owned actors. We hear concerns about People’s Republic of China-controlled economic zones and casinos, which function as clusters of trans-national criminality, with ties to trafficking of persons, drugs, and wildlife, and money-laundering networks.

Beijing’s failure to curb corruption tied to these PRC-controlled projects threatens to further strengthen criminal networks that undermine the security and autonomy of not only Mekong countries but even other ASEAN members.

“We will raise these concerns at the EAS and we will continue to encourage ASEAN to elevate the Mekong region as central to their prosperity and collective interests, as they have done with the South China Sea. Vietnam has done a terrific job doing just that this year as ASEAN Chair.”

Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang

Keshap made it explicit that they will also raise their concerns about Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, and elsewhere in China. Beijing has broken its promises to the people of Hong Kong. Any erosion of confidence in the rule of law or protection of rights has significant international impacts.

“We will continue to call out Beijing’s repression of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang.

The global community is calling on the PRC to end its inhumane campaign of repression in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, and elsewhere in China.”


Besides above key points, Keshap also mentioned Burma/Rakhine State Crisis and Clean Network initiatives.

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