China’s premier, Li Qiang, cautioned against the emergence of a “new Cold War” on Wednesday during a major international gathering of world leaders in Southeast Asia.
Li’s remarks, laden with veiled references to Washington, echoed concerns about the formation of US-backed alliances near China’s borders, further exacerbating disputes in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.
At the outset of the ASEAN-China Summit in Jakarta with Japan and South Korea, Li said: “Disagreements and disputes may arise between countries due to misperceptions, diverging interests, or external interferences.
“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.”
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The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) convened separate summits with China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and Canada on Wednesday, serving as a battleground for major powers to sway the bloc and air their rivalries.
US Vice President Kamala Harris, substituting for President Joe Biden, engaged with ASEAN leaders and praised their “shared commitment to international rules and norms … and regional issues”. Harris also unveiled plans for the first US-ASEAN center in Washington, underlining the United States’ growing involvement in the region.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol participated throughout the two-day meetings, with Yoon emphasizing no cooperation with North Korea, a matter of concern in light of Russia‘s reported arms talks with North Korea.
The gatherings precede an 18-member East Asia Summit featuring Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the G20 summit in New Delhi, where broader geopolitical matters are expected to take center stage.
China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu had previously cautioned against NATO-like alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, emphasizing “inclusive cooperation” instead of “small cliques” during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
In response to Li Qiang’s statements, US-backed alliances like AUKUS with Australia and Britain and the Quad alliance with Australia, India, and Japan have come into focus, highlighting the ongoing global power struggle.
Despite the regional spotlight on escalating tensions, Indonesian leaders sought to maintain the ASEAN bloc’s neutrality and prevent it from becoming a pawn in the US-China rivalry. The roundtable discussion featuring Lavrov and Harris marked the first high-level US-Russia encounter since the foreign ministers’ meeting in Jakarta in July, where US and European officials confronted Russia over the Ukraine conflict.
Myanmar remained a significant point of discussion, with Southeast Asian leaders strongly condemning the junta’s violence against civilians. China’s claims in the South China Sea also continued to raise alarms among ASEAN members. While the leaders expressed concerns about “land reclamations, activities, serious incidents” in the disputed waters, they opted not to confront China directly to avoid angering Beijing.
As ASEAN navigates the treacherous waters of great power competition, it remains to be seen how the geopolitical tensions will evolve and whether diplomatic efforts will bear fruit in a region increasingly shaped by rivalries and strategic ambitions.
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