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Pompeo: ‘We Want a Free And Open Indo-Pacific’

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo links hands with Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Thailand's Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai at the East Asia Summit meeting in Bangkok, Aug.2, 2019.

Updated at 2:15 a.m. Aug. 2.

Sok Khemara of VOA's Cambodian service contributed to this report.

“The Trump administration is invested in the sovereignty, in the resilience and the prosperity of each Southeast Asian nation,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday in a speech to a regional youth leadership program in Bangkok.

“We want a free and open Indo-Pacific that’s marked by the … rule of law, openness, transparency, good governance, respect for sovereignty of each and every nation, true partnerships,” the top U.S. diplomat said.

Pompeo also chided China for “decades of bad behavior,” that have stalled free trade. “It’s time for that to stop,” he said.

Pompeo, who is in Bangkok for a gathering of ASEAN diplomats, said Thursday he is optimistic talks with North Korea will resume shortly after an anticipated meeting between both sides in Thailand did not happen.

Regrets lack of North Korea talks

Pompeo said he “regretted” there were no talks when North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho failed to show up.

"We stand ready to continue our diplomatic conversation with the North Koreans … we're ready to go," Pompeo told reporters. "I am optimistic that that will happen before too long. We're looking forward to a chance to reconnect with them in a formal way diplomatically."

Pyongyang has yet to respond to the Trump administration's desire to hold more talks.

U.S. officials did not appear be too concerned by North Korea's latest test-firings of short-range ballistic missiles. A Pentagon official said the missiles were not a threat to South Korea and "have no impact on our defense posture."

Talks with Chinese official

Pompeo did hold talks Thursday in Bangkok with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as tensions lingered between Washington and Beijing over trade and what the U.S. called China's aggressive clams to large disputed areas of the South China Sea.

Wang said the discussions helped "increase our mutual understanding."

Pompeo said the U.S. was not asking countries in the region to "choose" between the U.S. and China. He seemed pleased that Cambodia was refuting reports that it was allowing China to build a military installation on Cambodian territory.

"The United States welcomes Cambodia's strong defense of its national sovereignty and we encourage other nations in the region to follow Cambodia's lead," Pompeo said.

Previous reports said Cambodia agreed earlier this year to give China exclusive rights to parts of the Ream naval base, located near a large airport China is constructing on the Gulf of Thailand.

Professor Sophal Ear, an expert in diplomacy at Occidental College in Los Angeles, told VOA's Cambodian service, "The secretary of state has taken Phnom Penh's denials at face value but is coyly cornering the Phnom Penh authorities into committing to their denial. If evidence emerges that activity is in fact continuing, then Cambodia will have violated not only its own constitution but also lose all credibility.

"Phnom Penh wants to have it both ways: do what China wants and yet deny to the world anything is happening. Phnom Penh can't have it both ways," he added.