China is hosting foreign ministers from 10 Southeast Asian nations this week amid heightened competition between Beijing and Washington for influence in the region.
Chinese state media said the meeting today in Chongqing would cover issues from restoring tourism and other economic exchanges battered by COVID-19 to more coordinated efforts in fighting the pandemic, and the feasibility of creating a “vaccine passport” to allow freer travel among the nations.
Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) is also expected to meet separately with each of his counterparts on the sidelines of the conference.
Beijing has been building influence with the 10 nations that make up ASEAN, despite frictions with some over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The Philippines has complained repeatedly over the presence of Chinese boats moored at a reef that it claims and Malaysia last week protested over an alleged intrusion by 16 Chinese military aircraft into its airspace, calling the incident a “serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety.”
However, China’s economic and diplomatic heft has helped override such concerns, while the bloc has been unable to form a unified stand in the face of opposition from Chinese allies within it, primarily Cambodia.
“Over the past three decades, China-ASEAN cooperation has grown in leaps and bounds, becoming the most successful and dynamic example of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said on Sunday in announcing the meeting.
“The fact that the two sides agreed to hold a face-to-face special foreign ministers’ meeting despite the ongoing grim COVID-19 situation reflects how countries attach great importance to and hold high expectations of China-ASEAN relations under the new circumstances,” Wang said.
It was not clear whether the issue of Myanmar, an ASEAN member where the military seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, would come up at the conference.
“We support ASEAN in upholding the principle of non-interference in internal affairs and the tradition of consensus,” Wang said at a news conference yesterday. “We support ASEAN, as a mature regional organization, in encouraging and constructively participating in Myanmar’s domestic reconciliation process in the ASEAN way, and working out effective approaches to alleviate the situation and solve the problem within the ASEAN framework.”
“China will continue to maintain close communication with ASEAN, support ASEAN’s mediation efforts and work with all parties in Myanmar in its own way to promote an early soft landing of the situation in Myanmar,” he said.
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