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U.S.'s Esper says China flexing its muscles most in Southeast Asia

FILE PHOTO: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on 'Department of Defense Authorities and Roles Related to Civilian Law Enforcement' in Washington, DC, U.S. July 9, 2020. Greg Nash/Pool via REUTERS

(Reuters) - China seems to be flexing its muscles the most in Southeast Asia, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday, especially in the South China Sea, where Washington is trying to counter Beijing’s disputed territorial claims.

Esper told an event in Hawaii that the United States wanted to work with China to bring Beijing back to a trajectory of aligning with international rules, adding that the smaller the country China was dealing with, the heavier its hand was.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez