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PHNOM PENH — Southeast Asian heads of government held talks on Saturday with visiting global leaders and were due to meet U.S. President Joe Biden, as the region tries to navigate the growing rivalry between China and Western powers.
Cambodia is hosting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) annual summit and a parallel East Asian Summit, with the regional bloc engaging a host of leaders, including Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
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The event is the first in a series of summits in Southeast Asia over the next seven days that are expected to tackle tricky global issues, from the war in Ukraine, climate, and regional tensions over the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea and North Korean missile launches.
At one of Saturday’s meetings with ASEAN, South Korea’s Yoon proposed a mechanism for a three-way dialog with China and Japan including a leadership summit to address future crises including from the impacts of war, on areas like security of food and energy security and climate change.
Yoon also said North Korea’s attempts to boost its nuclear and missile capabilities were a serious threat to the international community, which needed to respond with one voice.
Japan’s Kishida echoed those concerns, describing North Korea’s recent ballistic missile launches, including one that flew over Japan, as unacceptable international threats.
During a brief exchange with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Kishida said the two countries should strive toward building a
“constructive and stable” relationship
U.S. RETURN TO ‘NORMAL DIPLOMACY’
Biden will focus on the Indo-Pacific region and talk about U.S. commitment to a rules-based international order in the South China Sea in his discussions, senior administration officials said earlier this week.
Some analysts played down expectations of any dramatic developments from Biden’s presence, but noted it demonstrated the United States was getting back to “normal diplomacy.” “President Trump didn’t attend a single East Asian Summit during four years in office,” said Greg Poling, head of the Southeast Asia program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
One outcome of the trip would be the elevation of the U.S.-ASEAN partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership, he added.
“That doesn’t mean anything concrete, but symbolically it puts the U.S. at the same level as China,” said Poling.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will also attend some meetings in Phnom Penh, while Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is also in Cambodia after signing a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN, as Kyiv seeks to strengthen ties with the bloc.
Kuleba said he held direct talks with several leaders of ASEAN countries, during which he urged them to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, warning that staying neutral was not in their interests.
He said he also urged them to prevent Russia from holding up the movement of Ukrainian agricultural products under a Black Sea grain deal, which could expire on Nov. 19.
The United Nations says 10 million tonnes of grain and other foods have been exported from Ukraine under the arrangement made in July, but warns the war will leave millions more hungry.
“I call on all ASEAN members to take every method possible to stop Russia from playing hunger games with the world,” Kuleba told a news conference.
G20 leaders are meeting in Bali next week and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum takes place in Bangkok after that.
Lavrov will represent Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bali, while hosts Indonesia on Saturday confirmed Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will address the G20 meeting virtually.
ASEAN leaders on Friday issued a “warning” to Myanmar to make measurable progress on a peace plan or risk being barred from the bloc’s meetings, as social and political chaos escalates in the country. (Reporting by Prak Chan Thul, Jiraporn Kuhakan, and Nandita Bose in Phnom Penh and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Bernadette Christina and Ananda Teresia in Jakarta; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)