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Kerry Talks Tough on China at ASEAN

Speaking at the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference in Kuala Lumpur, Secretary of State John Kerry doubled down on U.S. opposition to Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea. Reuters reports:

Kerry’s blunt criticism of Beijing, in front of his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, is likely to lift the South China Sea up the agenda when Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Washington next month, some experts said.

“Freedom of navigation and overflight are among the essential pillars of international maritime law,” Kerry told the East Asia Summit attended by foreign ministers from around the region.

“Despite assurances that these freedoms would be respected, we have seen warnings issued and restrictions attempted in recent months,” Kerry said.

“Let me be clear: The United States will not accept restrictions on freedom of navigation and overflight, or other lawful uses of the sea.”

The strong words back up the American policy rolled out in May, which calls for lawful arbitration of the many overlapping territorial disputes in the region and strictly opposes China’s attempts to interrupt freedom of navigation and trade by declaring exclusive economic zones or even an ADIZ.

Though the U.S. is not part of ASEAN, it holds a lot of sway with most of the organization’s ten member states, and many—though not all—of the countries around the region will be watching America closely and taking cues. ASEAN itself may once again fragment and fail to come up with a joint communique (as it did the last time it met) but China’s repeated antagonism is certainly not making those of its neighbors wary of its intentions any more at ease.

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