WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to Asia and Africa, the State Department said Friday, as the U.S. and rivals China and Russia intensify their battle for global influence amid deepening divisions over Taiwan and Russia's war in Ukraine.
Blinken will begin a five-nation tour of the two continents next week, starting in Cambodia where he will attend a Southeast Asian regional security forum at which both the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers are also expected to attend. Blinken will then visit the Philippines, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
There was no immediate indication that Blinken would meet separately in Phnom Penh with either Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. On Friday, Blinken spoke to Lavrov by phone and urged Moscow to accept a U.S. offer to release WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American detainee, Paul Whelan.
The conversation ended months of diplomatic estrangement between the men, who had last spoken in February before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Blinken last met with Wang earlier this month at a meeting of foreign ministers from the the G-20 group of wealthy and large developing nations in Bali, Indonesia. But their presence together at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Cambodia will be their first opportunity to see each other since President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping had a more than two-hour phone call on Thursday.
The regional forum will be the last major gathering of international foreign ministers before a slew of leaders' meetings that are scheduled for this fall, beginning with the annual UN General Assembly in late September and then three summits in Asia in early November: the G-20 in Indonesia, the East Asia Summit in Cambodia and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand.
Russia's war in Ukraine, along with rising Western tensions with China, particularly between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan are expected to dominate all of these meetings. China has been angered by a possible visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.