BANGKOK • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday reverted to criticism of China's actions in Asia, speaking out at a regional forum against Chinese "coercion" in disputes over the South China Sea and dam-building on the Mekong River.
The comments highlighted a continuing divide with Beijing at a meeting of South-east Asian nations with world powers, even as Mr Pompeo met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi face-to-face for the first time this year earlier in the day.
Mr Pompeo said both the US and China want to improve ties that have soured on issues ranging from a trade war and US sanctions on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to Taiwan and the busy South China Sea waterway.
"We are working with them on many fronts," Mr Pompeo said of Beijing. "But we are also very candid about the places we are hoping China will behave in ways that they are not behaving today and we talked about each of those as well."
Earlier, Mr Wang had struck a more conciliatory tone, saying he and Mr Pompeo had discussed ways to promote China-US ties.
"There may be at various times issues and problems between China and the United States, but no matter how many problems, it is important for both sides to sit down and have face-to-face discussions," Mr Wang said after the meeting that lasted roughly 30 minutes.
In Bangkok, Mr Pompeo said he had urged regional allies to speak out against Chinese coercion in the South China Sea and earlier said Chinese dam-building upstream on the Mekong River had caused decade-low levels in the vital waterway.
Immediately after his meeting with Mr Wang, Mr Pompeo had also painted a rosier picture, saying on Twitter that he had had an in-depth exchange of views with the Chinese official on US-China relations, North Korea and other topics.
But in an appearance later in the day with his Thai counterpart, he returned to US talking points on issues such as the plight of Rohingya refugees who have fled Asean member state Myanmar and rising tension with Iran after attacks on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.