Thursday, September 7, 2023

At the ASEAN conference, representatives from the US, China, and Russia gather


JAKARTA: An opportunity for direct, high-level diplomacy between the rivals presents itself when US Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend an East Asia summit in Indonesia on Thursday.

A day after Premier Li Qiang warned major powers to manage their differences to avoid a "new Cold War," the 18-nation meeting will bring Washington and Beijing into contact ahead of the G20 summit this week in New Delhi, where Chinese President Xi Jinping will not be there.

As they attempt to contain tensions that run the risk of escalating once more over issues such as Taiwan, ties with Moscow, and the competition for influence in the Pacific, officials from the world's top two economies will be closely monitoring their interactions.

Li stated to regional leaders on Tuesday, "To keep differences under control, what is essential now is to oppose picking sides, to oppose bloc confrontation, and to oppose a new Cold War."

According to a statement from her office, Harris held her own talks with leaders of Southeast Asia on "the importance of upholding international law in the South China Sea," the disputed waterway where Chinese claims have enraged several Southeast Asian nations.

After US and European officials condemned Lavrov at a ministerial meeting in July over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Thursday's summit will be the first time high-ranking US and Russian officials will sit at the same table.

During a surprise visit to Kiev on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the announcement, which comes as Ukraine receives $1 billion in new assistance.

The summit will be attended by leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Modi, the host of the G20, spoke to ASEAN leaders on Thursday morning. He said it was important to "build a post-Covid rules-based world order" and work together to make sure a "free and open Indo-Pacific," which is another name for the Asia-Pacific region.

The top US diplomat's first trip to Beijing in nearly five years saw him meet Xi and former foreign minister Qin Gang. The talks on Thursday came a few months after that.

A Southeast Asian diplomat who will be present said that despite the differences between the major powers, the meeting was not expected to be heated.

"These meetings are not tense; they will state their positions. Particularly at the level of leaders, where some level of decorum is expected."

Following the summit, the group will issue a jointly agreed-upon statement.

Experts assert that the gathering's capacity to assist in resolving a variety of regional and global disputes is limited, despite its ability to bring major players together.

"In recent times, we are able to say that the East Asia summit is broken. It's a sign of the ASEAN convening power. The senior fellow at the Singapore-based think tank IISS, Aaron Connelly, stated, "It has been turned into a forum for talking points."

Big powers used earlier talks in Jakarta to strengthen alliances and lobby the Southeast Asian bloc, despite the fact that Thursday's meeting will be more geopolitical.

On Wednesday, Li traveled with a senior Indonesian minister on a Chinese-funded high-speed train project between Jakarta and Bandung, a city in Java.

On the sidelines of the summit, Harris held separate meetings with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, both members of ASEAN.

According to a statement released by her office, "The Vice President reaffirmed the United States' ironclad alliance commitment to the Philippines" and "highlighted the role the US-Philippines alliance plays in ensuring a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific."

Yoon reportedly called for an end to any military cooperation with North Korea and demanded that the bloc respond to the country's nuclear threats.

Later on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will also deliver a speech on the sidelines of the summit.

On Thursday, members of ASEAN will hold bilateral meetings with India, Australia, and the United Nations.

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