China embassies accuse Trump aide Robert O’Brien of causing chaos in Asia

Laura Zhou
·3-min read

Chinese diplomatic corps in Vietnam and the Philippines have crossed swords with the US national security adviser over the two countries’ activities in Southeast Asia, in the latest escalation of tensions as the Trump administration makes a last gasp push for its tough agenda to counter China.

In a statement published early on Tuesday morning, the Chinese embassy in Manila accused US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien of “stirring up trouble in the South China Sea” and “provoking a rift between China and the Philippines”.

It came hours after another statement from the Chinese embassy in Hanoi calling on the US to stop discrediting China over the South China Sea and the Mekong River – the most contentious issues between China and its Southeast Asian neighbours.

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“The US is not a party to the South China Sea dispute … but has been openly interfering in the South China Sea issues under the name of safeguarding stability … and ‘freedom of navigation’,” according to a Hanoi embassy statement issued late on Monday night. “Its purpose is never to help regional countries to resolve dispute but to maintain its hegemony in the region.”

The two statements came as O’Brien wrapped up his whirlwind visit to Vietnam, followed by the Philippines, where he assured his hosts of Washington’s support in their maritime disputes over Beijing’s “incredibly aggressive” actions in the South China Sea.

During his meetings with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh, O’Brien urged them to curb illegal re-routing of Chinese exports and said the US may be able to provide financing to help with purchases of American helicopters.

In his visit to Manila on Monday, O’Brien also confirmed the delivery of US$18 million worth of missiles pledged by President Donald Trump in April, according to the Philippines Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin.

O’Brien had earlier represented Trump at the online East Asia Summit, attended by the 10 Asean leaders as well as the heads of countries like China, Japan and Russia and hosted by Vietnam. According to a White House statement, O’Brien told the summit that China’s actions in the Mekong river basin and the South China Sea threatened peace, stability, and sovereignty.

The two Chinese embassies said O’Brien’s recent remarks were “full of cold war mentality”. The Manila embassy added – in a statement in both Chinese and English – that they showed his visit to the region was “not to promote regional peace and stability, but to create chaos in the region” for Washington’s self-interest.

“In recent years, to safeguard its regional and global hegemony, the US has regarded itself as ‘patron’ and ‘judge’ of regional countries and directly intervened in the South China Sea and other issues,” it said.

The statement continued, with accusations that the US had “fanned the flames everywhere, stirred up confrontation among the countries in the region, interfered in the efforts of China and relevant Asean countries to peacefully negotiate and manage disputes, and seriously undermined regional peace and stability.

“The US is the biggest driver of the militarisation of the South China Sea and the most dangerous external factor endangering the peace and stability of the South China Sea,” it added.

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