President Donald Trump said he would be happy to negotiate with China over conflicts in the South China Sea during a meeting with Vietnam president Trần Đại Quang.
“If I can help in any way, I’m a very good mediator and a very good arbitrator,” Trump said. “I have done plenty of it from both sides. So if I can help you, let me know.”
During his press conference with Quang, Trump said that it would be “a strange thing to happen” if he was asked to mediate the dispute, but said it would be “a good thing.”
“Certainly, it is something that could happen,” he said. “I don’t know that it will, but it would be very, very nice if it did.”
Quang said Vietnam’s policy was to settle any South China Sea disputes through “peaceful negotiations.”
Trump has not made the South China Sea dispute with China and other Asian nations a focal point of his trip, an issue that is sensitive to the Chinese. But the president hinted at the dispute by calling for “freedom of navigation and overflight, including open shipping lanes” during his speech to the APEC summit in Vietnam.
The Chinese government appears to have already rejected Trump’s offer as needless foreign meddling.
“We hope countries outside the region can respect regional countries’ efforts to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea, and play a constructive role in this regard,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Monday in response to Trump’s comments. “China firmly safeguards its sovereignty and maritime interests in the South China Sea, and sticks to settling disputes with parties directly concerned through negotiations.”
Geng referred to the Chinese militarization of the region as a “stabilized” situation, suggesting no need for any discussion.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including territory within the maritime borders of the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia. The Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague ruled against China’s claims in 2016.