US Safety Advisor O’Brien on his approach to Vietnam, Philippines

© Reuters. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien speaks at the White House in Washington, USA

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien is en route to Vietnam and the Philippines, countries that share U.S. concerns over China’s increasingly assertive behavior and the extensive maritime claims in Asia, said the White House on Wednesday.

White House National Security Council tweets said O’Brien would meet with leaders of the two countries “to reaffirm the strength of our bilateral ties and to discuss regional security cooperation.”

O’Brien’s trip follows a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Hanoi last month. That visit came a week after the release of a Vietnamese-born US citizen, Michael Nguyen, who had been sentenced to 12 years in prison for “attempting to overthrow the state”.

The former enemies of the Vietnam War now have cordial relations despite US concerns about human rights practices in Hanoi.

Washington also has human rights concerns in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte was embroiled in a war on drugs that killed thousands of urban poor, many in mysterious circumstances.

On a visit to the Philippines last year, Pompeo assured the Philippines that Washington would come to its defense if it were attacked in the South China Sea, where Manila has competing claims with China and other countries, including Vietnam.

The administration of US President Donald Trump, who was defeated in his re-election on November 3 and is due to hand over power to President-elect Joe Biden on January 20, had declared the Asia-Pacific region and its competition with China to be a foreigner political priority.

Trump has been criticized by former officials and other commentators for attending his seat at the virtual East Asia summit last weekend, on the edge of which 15 countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, signed a China-backed regional trade agreement.

Trump plans to represent the United States this week at a virtual Asia-Pacific summit that his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, plans to attend, a US official told Reuters.

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