JAKARTA – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met China’s top diplomat to discuss thorny issues as part of efforts to nurture talks on the sidelines of regional diplomatic meetings in Indonesia, whose president called on rival powers Friday to avoid turning the region into a “competition arena."
Blinken stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and raised concerns by Washington and its allies over China’s actions in his late-Thursday meeting with Wang Yi, who heads the ruling Communist Party’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, U.S. officials said.
"The meeting was part of ongoing efforts to maintain open channels of communication to clarify U.S. interests across a wide range of issues and to responsibly manage competition by reducing the risk of misperception and miscalculation,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.
"This is what the world expects of the United States and the PRC,” Miller said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
Blinken made a two-day trip to Beijing last month to meet Chinese leaders and restore top-level ties in a visit he said then was meant to “address misperceptions, miscalculations and to ensure that competition doesn’t veer into conflict.”
But Washington and Beijing remain deeply suspicious of each other’s actions and intentions.
Blinken used the meeting with Wang in Jakarta “to advance U.S. interests and values, to directly raise concerns shared by the United States and allies and partners regarding PRC actions,” Miller said. “He made clear that the United States, together with our allies and partners, will advance our vision for a free, open, and rules-based international order."
U.S. officials informed some allies in the region of Blinken’s meeting with Wang Yi ahead of their talks in Jakarta with an assurance that Washington would not waver on its commitment to fight for the rule of law and against coercive actions in the region, a senior Southeast Asian diplomat told The Associated Press.
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly.
Blinken and Wang, along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, were attending the Jakarta meetings with counterparts in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-nation regional bloc that is often pinned between competing interests of the two leading world powers over a range of issues, including tensions over Taiwan and the long-seething territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The three, along with other Western and Asian foreign ministers whose countries regularly engage with ASEAN, paid a call Friday to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who delivered a pointed message.
"Your presence at the ASEAN foreign ministerial meetings and post-ministerial conference is to find solutions to regional problems, to world problems, not the other way around, let alone exacerbate problems,” Widodo said.
"ASEAN should not be a competition arena and should not be a proxy for any country, and international law must be consistently respected,” the Indonesian leader said.
The recriminations, however, persisted in closed-door meetings.
Following meetings with Wang and some of his ASEAN counterparts, Lavrov told reporters Thursday in Jakarta he had stressed that Russia and China “respect the principles” of ASEAN’s central role in the region. But he accused the United States and its NATO allies of trying to undermine ASEAN, claiming that “they are pushing this idea that the security of the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific regions are indivisible,” and noting that the alliance had invited Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea to participate in recent summits.
“The United States and their allies are trying to replace the ASEAN-centric security architecture here in the eastern Asian region that was built for decades,” he said, speaking through a translator. “They want to replace it with their Indo-Pacific strategy, they want to introduce the NATO bloc into the region.”
Western officials have stressed there are no plans to create an “Asian NATO."
Blinken hit back at Russia on Friday in a separate meeting with ASEAN ministers. He urged them to help “push for a just and lasting peace to Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine — a war that violates principles at the heart of ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and the United Nations Charter."
“It’s harming not only Ukrainians, but people across this region and around the world by exacerbating food and energy crises,” Blinken said.
Speaking earlier this year after meeting with Japan’s foreign minister, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was becoming more involved with partners in the region because “what happens in Europe matters for Asia, for the Indo-Pacific, and what happens in Asia and the Indo-Pacific matters for Europe,” calling security a global issue.
In a separate meeting between ASEAN’s foreign ministers and their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea on Thursday, Wang raised concerns over Japan’s plan to discharge treated radioactive wastewater into the sea from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was destroyed by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi played down Wang's remarks and gave assurances his country was taking all safeguards in relation to the plan, according to the Southeast Asian diplomat who attended the meetings.
Dino Patti Djalal, a former Indonesian ambassador to Washington who now heads a Jakarta-based foreign policy think-tank, said efforts by the U.S. and China to resume direct talks would be a welcome change for ASEAN, which has long feared that the rivalry could veer out of control.
But, he added, there should be no misplaced expectation — “Rivalry still dominates the relationship.”
“I think they’re still a long way from establishing meaningful trust,” Djalal told the AP. He said there was a need for “a great deal of cooperation between the two sides, which we’re not seeing at the moment.”
Associated Press journalists Niniek Karmini and Matthew Lee contributed to this report. Rising reported from Bangkok.
Find more of AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific