Speaking at an annual summit involving members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China, Japan and South Korea, Li said countries needed to “appropriately handle differences and disputes”.
“At present, it is very important to oppose taking sides, bloc confrontation and a new Cold War,” Li told the meeting.
Asean, which has warned of the danger of getting dragged into major powers’ disputes, is also holding wider talks with Li, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and leaders of partner countries including Japan, South Korea, Australia and India.
Neither U.S. President Joe Biden nor his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, is attending.
High on the agenda at the gatherings in Jakarta is concern about China’s increasingly assertive activity in the South China Sea, an important trade corridor in which several Asean members have claims that conflict with China.
In remarks at the start of her meeting with Asean leaders, Harris said the United States was committed to the region.
“The United States has an enduring commitment to Southeast Asia and more broadly to the Indo-Pacific,” she said.
Harris also said the United States would continue to press the Myanmar junta to end “horrific violence” that has erupted since a military coup in 2021.
A White House official had earlier said Harris would “underscore the United States’ and Asean’s shared interest in upholding the rules-based international order, including in the South China Sea, in the face of China’s unlawful maritime claims and provocative actions”.
Asean this week discussed with China accelerating negotiations on a long-discussed code of conduct for the waterway, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.
The issue also came up during an Asean-Japan summit where leaders “expressed the importance of keeping situations in the region conducive, especially in the Korean peninsula and also the South China Sea”, she said.
NEW CHINESE MAP
The United States and its allies have echoed Asean’s calls for freedom of navigation and overflight and to refrain from building a physical presence in disputed waters. China has built various facilities, including runways, on tiny outcrops in the sea.
Just before this week’s gatherings, China released a map with a “10-dash line” showing what appeared to be an expansion of the area it considers its territory in the South China Sea.
Several Asean members rejected the map.
Referring to the South China Sea, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said his country did not seek conflict but had a duty to “meet any challenge to our sovereignty”.
“The Philippines firmly rejects misleading narratives that frame the disputes in the South China Sea solely through the lens of strategic competition between two powerful countries,” Marcos said.
“This not only denies us our independence and our agency, but it also disregards our own legitimate interests.”
Some Asean members have developed close diplomatic, business and military ties with China while others are more wary. The United States has also courted Asean countries with varying degrees of success.
The 10 members of Asean held their summit earlier in the week with leaders seeking to assert the bloc’s relevance in the face of criticism it is failing to press Myanmar’s military leaders to cooperate on a plan for peace.
In a statement on Wednesday, Asean chair Indonesia said the bloc needed to “strengthen stability in the maritime sphere in our region … and explore new initiatives towards these ends”.
Regional leaders also expressed “grave concern” over a lack of substantial progress on the bloc’s five-point peace plan for Myanmar, the statement said.
The summit also saw South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol pledge to work with Japan and China for the early resumption of three-way talks in building better ties.
Yoon said any military cooperation with North Korea must stop. The New York Times reported on Monday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un plans to travel to Russia this month to meet President Vladimir Putin and discuss supplying Moscow with weapons for the war in Ukraine.
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