U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told leaders of Southeast Asian nations on Thursday that there was no place for “empire and aggression” in the Indo-Pacific region, a comment that could be interpreted as a reference to China’s rise.

Pence did not mention China in his remarks at the opening of a summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore, but stressed that small countries as well as large ones should be allowed to prosper in the Indo-Pacific.

The prime minister of Singapore later said that Southeast Asian countries did not want to take sides when pulled in different directions by major powers, but that one day it may have to.

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