Asean Latest: Chinese Premier Makes Debut as Tensions Mount

Chinese Premier Li Qiang highlighted his country’s strong ties with Southeast Asia during a meeting on Wednesday with the leaders of a region that’s challenged by an increasingly complicated geopolitical landscape.

(Bloomberg) — Chinese Premier Li Qiang highlighted his country’s strong ties with Southeast Asia during a meeting on Wednesday with the leaders of a region that’s challenged by an increasingly complicated geopolitical landscape.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo opened the Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s summit on Tuesday saying the region must not become a proxy for any power as the US and China compete for influence. Vice President Kamala Harris is set to meet with Asean leaders later on Wednesday.

Asean leaders have expressed anxiety about the prospect of a conflict in Asia over Taiwan or in the South China Sea, and Jokowi acknowledged the need for the bloc to muster a “relevant tactical strategy.” Southeast Asia is also under pressure to address the rising violence in Myanmar.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are also attending the summit. The US is seeking to reshape engagement with its regional allies into a security network that China says is meant to counter its rise.

Whether the leaders can make progress resolving any of these issues remains to be seen, particularly with President Joe Biden skipping the event in favor of a trip to India for the Group of 20, where his Russian and Chinese counterparts will be absent.

All times local

Myanmar Junta Plays Down Asean Chair Loss (10:26 a.m.)

Myanmar’s junta played down the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ decision to strip it of the chairmanship in 2026 as the bloc condemned the violence in the country.

While Asean has led diplomatic efforts to end the violence in Myanmar, it remains deeply divided over how to engage a military that has killed thousands in its country. The bloc has come under scrutiny for its slow handling of the Myanmar crisis using a five-point consensus that its leaders formally agreed to continue pursuing on Tuesday.

Albanese Laments Slow Pace of Regional Investment (10:00 a.m.)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese admitted on Wednesday that Australia’s economic engagement with Southeast Asia had “not kept pace” with the region’s growth.

“Working together, the peace, stability and security of this region – and the Indo-Pacific – can be assured,” he said at the Asean Indo-Pacific forum where he also announced a A$95 million ($60 million) plan to boost economic ties with Southeast Asia. That includes A$70 million over four years to create specialist teams to strike up investment deals between Australia and the region.

Japan Seeks China Dialogue at Asean (9:02 a.m.)

Japan is seeking talks with China to resolve a dispute over the disposal of treated wastewater from the ruined Fukushima nuclear plant, with Prime Minister Kishida and Premier Li set to cross paths at the Asean summit. 

Kishida told the Asean Indo-Pacific Forum this morning that his country’s principles on the Free and Open Indo-Pacific are aligned with Asean, especially on the importance of transparency, inclusivity and the rule of law. He outlined six areas where Japan seeks to deepen cooperation with Asean, including infrastructure.

Li Highlights Strong Ties (8:40 a.m.)

The Chinese Premier heralded strong relations with Southeast Asia during a meeting with its leaders on Wednesday, saying cooperation “will be as firm as ever” so long as the relationship stays on the right path.

Trade topped $970 billion last year, more than double that of a year ago, he said. Despite tensions in the South China Sea, Li said both sides “have a relentless pursuit of peace” and they can “take real actions to preserve regional stability.”

Singapore PM Seeks Continued Asean Relevance (7:33 a.m.)

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Asean to increase engagement with “external partners in an open and inclusive way.” In a Facebook post Wednesday, he said the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific creates a platform to do so. He also sought to “ensure Asean’s continued relevance and competitiveness in a post-pandemic world.”

“This is a period of great geopolitical and economic uncertainty,” Lee said. “How Asean responds to today’s challenges will determine whether Asean centrality can hold in the years ahead.”

Harris Arrives in Jakarta (10:00 p.m)

Harris arrived Tuesday evening in Jakarta and will meet with Southeast Asian leaders later on Wednesday. Li, meanwhile, is expected to sit down with heads of Asean this morning. 

The leaders are expected to address tensions in the disputed South China Sea as countries including the Philippines grow increasingly vocal over China’s incursions.

–With assistance from Ben Westcott, Isabel Reynolds, Chandra Asmara, Faris Mokhtar and Aradhana Aravindan.

(Adds Albanese’s comments seeking increased engagement.)

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