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Rivalries on Show as Southeast Asia Hosts Annual Security Gathering

Foreign Ministers attend the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting in Jakarta, on July 14, 2023.
Foreign Ministers attend the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting in Jakarta, on July 14, 2023.

Foreign ministers of two dozen countries meet in Indonesia on Friday with U.S.-China rivalry, the war in Ukraine and North Korean missiles set to dominate roundtable talks in Southeast Asia's annual security gathering.

Top diplomats from China, the United States and Russia were among those set to join Friday's ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), where broad-based agendas are typically hijacked by the week's geopolitical flare-ups, offering a theater for fierce rebukes, superpower squabbles and occasional walk-outs.

In opening remarks to foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), chairman Indonesian President Joko Widodo said the gathering aimed to seek solutions rather than exacerbate regional and global problems.

"We, the ASEAN members that are developing, need the understanding, wisdom, support from developed countries, from our neighboring countries, to leave the zero sum approach and take a win-win solution approach," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held "candid and constructive" talks with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on Thursday in Jakarta, according to the State Department, the latest in a series of interactions it said are aimed at managing differences between the two superpowers.

U.S.-China sparring dominated last year's ARF, which came a few days after then U.S. house speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, enraging Beijing, which launched live-fire drills around Taiwan and halted numerous channels of dialog with Washington.

Thursday's meeting was part of ongoing efforts to keep channels of communication open and "responsibly manage competition by reducing the risk of misperception and miscalculation," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Wang told Blinken the key to bringing the relationship back on the right track was adopting "a rational and pragmatic attitude," China's foreign ministry said.

On Thursday, Chinese fighter jets monitored a U.S. Navy patrol plane that flew through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, as China carried out military exercises south of the island, which it claims as one of its provinces.

Lavrov: Western 'domination'

The 10-member ASEAN hosts an East Asia Summit on Friday morning before holding a separate meeting with Blinken.

They will be joined in the afternoon by foreign ministers of Russia, Australia, Japan, Britain, South Korea, and more, for the closed-doors ARF, which is expected to address Pyongyang's launch this week of its latest Hwasong-19 intercontinental ballistic missile, which it defended on Thursday at the United Nations Security Council.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also in Jakarta, where he gave an interview saying the war in Ukraine would not end until the West "gives up its plans to preserve its domination," including its "obsessive desire" to defeat Russia strategically.

China's Wang also met with Lavrov, and said the two sides would "strengthen strategic communication and coordination."

Western nations are also expected to condemn Myanmar's ruling military for its alleged atrocities against the civilian population, as the junta cracks down on its opponents and deploys fighter jets and heavy artillery to flush out an armed pro-democracy resistance movement.

ASEAN member Myanmar has been barred from the bloc's meetings over the junta's failure to honor a two-year-old deal with the grouping to end hostilities and start dialog. ASEAN's unity has been tested over how to approach the crisis.

The bloc late on Thursday "strongly condemned the continued acts of violence, including air strikes, artillery shelling, and destruction of public facilities" in its customary communique, which was issued more than 30 hours after foreign ministers concluded their meeting, a delay that in previous years has indicated discord over its contents.

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