Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang on Wednesday called on the great powers to resolve their differences and warned of the risks of “a new cold war”, during summits in Indonesia where representatives of the great powers and leaders gathered from Southeast Asia.
Beijing had previously expressed concerns about American policy aimed at encouraging the formation of regional blocs in its neighborhood, such as the “Quad” (United States, Japan, Australia and India) or the AUKUS military alliance (Australia, United States , United Kingdom).
The Chinese official called for opposing any confrontation between blocs at an ASEAN+3 summit bringing together Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and ASEAN leaders nations of Southeast Asia.
“Disagreements and disputes may arise between countries due to misunderstandings, competing interests or external interference,” Li Qiang said.
“To iron out these differences, what is essential now is not to choose a side, to oppose the confrontation between blocs and to prevent a new cold war,” he continued.
Following a meeting of ASEAN leaders on Tuesday, the regional group held back-to-back summits in Jakarta on Wednesday with China, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Canada, providing an opportunity for major powers to woo or pressure the 10-country bloc.
US Vice President Kamala Harris replaces President Joe Biden on this occasion, and Chinese Premier Li Qiang replaces President Xi Jinping.
On Thursday, Jakarta will host the East Asia summit which should cover major geopolitical issues with 18 countries present, including Russia and India.
During his meeting with ASEAN leaders, Kamala Harris thanked them for “their joint commitment to international rules and norms […] and regional issues.
Japanese and Chinese leaders have raised the issue of the discharge of water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Fumio Kishida explained the Japanese position and called for a “constructive and stable” bilateral relationship, while the Chinese official insisted that Tokyo adopt a responsible attitude on these rejections which worry the countries of the region. “But it was not a tense discussion,” said a diplomat present at the meeting.
The South Korean president for his part asked his partners to refuse any potential cooperation with North Korea, which is conducting negotiations on arms sales with Russia, according to Washington.
“Any attempt to establish military cooperation with North Korea, which is acting to undermine peace in the international community, must immediately stop,” said the leader, quoted by a presidential official according to the Yonhap agency.
Indonesia, host country of the ASEAN summit, declared on Tuesday that the countries of the group should not serve as intermediaries for the great powers, while Washington and Beijing continue to oppose on the questions of Taiwan, the South China Sea and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The roundtable, which Sergei Lavrov and Kamala Harris attended, is expected to be the first high-level meeting between the United States and Russia since the meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Jakarta in July.
Controversial map, Myanmar
Myanmar is also an important topic in meetings with China, a key diplomatic ally of the junta.
On Tuesday, Southeast Asian leaders strongly condemned the violence and attacks on civilians in Myanmar, blaming the junta directly.
Kamala Harris stressed that Washington “will continue to press the regime to end the horrific violence, and to release all those who are unjustly detained and to put Myanmar back on the path to inclusive democracy”.
China had raised alarm among several ASEAN members last week by releasing a new official map claiming sovereignty over much of the South China Sea.
Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan have officially denounced this document. Some ASEAN leaders have expressed concern over “reclaimed land, activities and serious incidents” in the South China Sea, according to an ASEAN presidency statement released on Wednesday.
But members of the regional group should avoid directly challenging Beijing.
“I expect the priority on the economy will be maintained and leaders will avoid tackling confrontational topics like the new China map,” said Aleksius Jemadu, an international affairs expert at Pelita Harapan University in Jakarta.