US Spends Big to Highlight Beijing’s Tactics in South China Sea

(Bloomberg) -- The US is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to develop maritime capabilities in Southeast Asia as nations face growing pressure from Beijing in the disputed South China Sea, a senior US official said.

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“We spend a great deal of time effort and money investing in building the maritime capacity of our partners,” Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink said during an online press briefing from Washington on Wednesday evening following a five nation swing through the region.

“The more countries are able to understand what is happening in their maritime domains and defend their own interests in their maritime domains,” the further we promote stability across the region, he said.

The remarks follow a collision between coast guard vessels from China and the Philippines this week during a resupply mission in the disputed waters. Manila said four of its sailors were injured during the incident after the Chinese ship turned its water cannons on one of its supply boats.

“The People’s Republic of China has taken a number of steps in the South China Sea that both run counter to international law, but that also utilize coercion to intimidate partners in ways that we find deeply unacceptable and destabilizing,” Kritenbrink said.

China earlier accused the US of sowing discord, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning calling on the US to refrain from “using the Philippines as a pawn to destabilize the South China Sea.”

Asked about whether he has noticed any improvement in the alliance between the US and Thailand under Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, Kritenbrink said he came away “very bullish” following his trip.

“Security cooperation is probably more robust than ever,” he said. “I think you could argue across the board that the US-Thai alliance is as strong as it’s ever been.”

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