By Cindy Saine
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Thailand for an ASEAN summit that comes just hours after North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test, the second launch by Pyongyang in less than a week.
Pompeo will host a U.S.-ASEAN meeting Thursday with his counterparts in Bangkok, saying many of them share a vision for security, peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. He will also deliver a speech on U.S. economic engagement in the region.
On the way to Thailand, Pompeo was asked when U.S. talks with North Korean officials will resume.
“There’s been a little bit of preliminary work to be done. I never want to set a date, [but] I hope before too long, we will have Special Representative [Stephen] Biegun sitting with what I think will be a new counterpart from North Korea.”
The State Department has confirmed that Biegun will be part of the U.S. delegation in Bangkok.
In the past, the annual ASEAN security meeting was used as an opportunity for talks between U.S. and North Korean officials, but North Korea has signaled that its top diplomat may not attend this year.
Pompeo said he will be meeting with his Chinese counterpart, and that they would talk about a whole range of issues. The bilateral talks with China come as U.S.-China trade talks resume, and as China raises tensions in the region by claiming large swaths of the South China Sea.
When asked about countries in Southeast Asia turning to China, Pompeo told reporters the premise was mistaken. To suggest they are “vassal states” in the “clutches of China” was wrong, he said. “They are looking for partners,” he said of countries in the region. “It’s not about luring them back.”
When asked about what his message would be on the protests in Hong Kong, Pompeo said, “With respect to Hong Kong, this is the people of Hong Kong asking their government to listen to them. So, it’s always appropriate for every government to listen to their people.”
Speaking to reporters on the plane, Pompeo was also asked to clarify the U.S. plan for withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan.
Pompeo said there was no deadline but that the U.S. will reduce its operational footprint in Afghanistan as soon as conditions on the ground permit, because the U.S. also has to make sure there is no terrorism coming from Afghanistan.