Top US, Chinese diplomats to meet at ASEAN talks

AFP , Thursday 13 Jul 2023

The top US and Chinese diplomats will hold their second meeting in as many months on Thursday in Jakarta, seeking to manage tensions that risk flaring anew over alleged Chinese hacking.

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ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Jakarta on July 13, 2023. AFP


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Wang Yi, China's top foreign policy official, will meet on the sidelines of Association of Southeast Asian Nations talks in the Indonesian capital, the State Department's public schedule showed.

The meeting is going ahead despite Microsoft saying two days earlier that Chinese hackers had breached US government email accounts, including those of the State Department.

The Jakarta talks come nearly a month after Blinken travelled to Beijing, the first visit by a US secretary of state in nearly five years, and met President Xi Jinping as well as Wang and Foreign Minister Qin Gang.

Wang, who leads the foreign affairs commission of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, is representing China at the Jakarta talks among foreign ministers as Qin is ill, the foreign ministry in Beijing said.

Blinken's trip opened a flurry of diplomacy, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visiting Beijing last week and a trip by climate envoy John Kerry set for the coming days.

But the United States has still not achieved its key goal of resuming dialogue with the Chinese military, seen as critical to avoiding worst-case scenarios.

Tensions between the world's two largest economies have soared in recent years over a host of issues including China's growing assertiveness in the region and sweeping restrictions imposed by the United States on exports of advanced semiconductors.

US officials fear China is readying plans to invade Taiwan, the self-governing democracy it claims, and want to preserve the status quo that has reigned, often uneasily, for nearly five decades.

'Productive coexistence'? 

Neither the United States nor China has predicted breakthroughs from the renewed diplomacy, but both have spoken of making sure that disagreements do not lead to outright conflict.

Blinken spoke in unusually sanguine terms about China after his trip to Beijing, avoiding the Cold War-like talk of a long-term global confrontation with the rising Asian power that was popular under former president Donald Trump's administration.

"At least in the near term, maybe even in the lifetimes of most people in this room, I don't think (there is) a clear finish line," Blinken said of US goals in China during a recent appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

"This is more about getting to a place where we have peaceful and maybe somewhat more productive coexistence between us."

But incidents have repeatedly crept up to overshadow the relationship.

Microsoft this week said that a Chinese hacking group had gained access to nearly 25 organisations with the goal of espionage.

The State Department said it detected "anomalous activity" but stopped short of publicly blaming China, saying an investigation was underway.

Blinken's first plan to visit Beijing was scuttled in February after Washington said it detected a Chinese espionage balloon over the mainland United States.

Tensions on sea, Myanmar 

The South China Sea is set to be a major topic at the ASEAN talks in Jakarta, where Washington and Beijing will both take part in an 18-nation East Asia Summit with foreign ministers' on Friday.

China claims almost the entirety of the strategic waterway and several ASEAN members complain about Beijing infringing on their own overlapping territorial claims.

Wang addressed ASEAN ministers before talks Thursday morning as did Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who will be in the same room Friday as Blinken for the East Asia Summit meeting.

It will be their first encounter since a brief March meeting in India but no bilateral talks are expected between the two diplomats as Moscow's widely-condemned invasion of Ukraine grinds on.

ASEAN will also meet jointly with the foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea, a dialogue in place since the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

The crisis in coup-racked Myanmar that has divided ASEAN members will also be on the list of topics addressed, said Teuku Rezasyah, international relations expert at Padjadjaran University.

"Japan and South Korea have an interest to prevent Myanmar from joining China's orbit," he said.

Thailand's foreign minister on Wednesday said he met with ousted Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week and Bangkok has sought engagement with Myanmar's ruling junta, drawing criticism that it is undercutting ASEAN efforts.

A Southeast Asian diplomat said a joint ASEAN communique after the bloc's two-day ministerial meeting earlier this week was still being worked out and would come on Thursday, a day later than expected.

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