State Department spokesman John Kirby struggled Tuesday when he debated Associated Press reporter Matt Lee over the number of Asian countries that are now aligning with China instead of the United States.
After Malaysia signed multiple new deals with China this week, including the purchase of ships and a railroad line, questions began to swirl if Malaysia was aligning more with China. The Philippines announced last month its intention to forge closer ties with China and move away from the U.S.
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"I don't want to get too conceptual here, but what do you mean it's not born out by the facts that countries in greater numbers in Southeast Asia are becoming friendlier with China?" Lee asked at the State Department daily press briefing. "I mean it's completely born out by the facts."
"Name them," Kirby said.
"Well, the Philippines for one," Lee said before reciting a list that included Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia.
"Okay, so we have two or three, four, whatever," Kirby said. "There's a lot of nations in the Asian-Pacific region."
"There's only ten in ASEAN," Lee said.
ASEAN, an acronym for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is a regional economic organization that seeks to promote better coordination between the ten member states. All five of the countries that Lee mentioned are ASEAN members.
Kirby then said he did not deny that countries were reaching out more to China but said it was not a bad development for the United States.