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April 7, 2021, 06.32 PM

Days later, Blinken and Austin met the foreign and defense ministers of South Korea.

U.S. officials say they sent Navy ships to the South China Sea 10 times last year, adding B-52 bombers at least once, as a way of showing the disputed waterway remains open to international use rather than exclusive Chinese control.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam contest Beijing’s claims to about 90% of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea that is prized for natural resources.

China has the strongest armed forces among the six claimants, prompting the others to look toward the United States for support.

Wang told his Singaporean counterpart last week the two countries should jointly oppose “vaccine nationalism.” Xinhua reported.

The term describes governments that make deals with pharmaceutical companies to treat their own populations at the expense of other countries. China has already sent its Sinovac vaccines to Indonesia and the Philippines.

Also read: Brunei Darussalam's ASEAN Chairmanship: Indonesian Envoy Lauds Brunei's Response to Covid-19

Southeast Asian economies that slumped last year due to lack of tourism and export demand hope China can bring relief, experts say.

Washington has offered COVID-19 relief aid to Southeast Asia, including $18.3 million in emergency health and humanitarian assistance in the first quarter of 2020.

But the U.S. government lacks an equivalent of China’s trillion-plus dollar Belt-and-Road Initiative for building transport infrastructure throughout Eurasia through 2027 — including projects in some of the countries that sent ministers last week to see Wang.

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