US President Joe Biden has told Asian leaders that the US’s lines of communication with China would stay open to prevent conflict, as the first of three summits of world leaders this week came to a close.
Addressing the East Asia Summit in Cambodia on Sunday, Biden said the US would compete with China and speak out over its human rights record, but stressed the importance of peace in the Taiwan Strait and ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Biden also condemned Russia’s “brutal and unjust” invasion of Ukraine and the threats of North Korea’s missile tests, the White House said, and called on Myanmar’s military rulers to follow a peace plan they agreed to with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The Southeast Asia region is also hosting the Group of 20 (G20) Summit in Bali, Indonesia, from November 15-16, ahead of which Biden will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time since taking office, with relations between the two superpowers at their lowest point in decades.
US officials have in the past expressed frustration that lower-level Chinese officials have been unable or unwilling to speak for Xi, and are hoping the face-to-face meeting will enable progress on areas of mutual concern – and, even more critically, a shared understanding of each other’s limitations.
“I know him well, he knows me,” Biden said of Xi. “We’ve just got to figure out where the red lines are and what are the most important things to each of us, going into the next two years.”
As president, Biden has repeatedly taken China to task for human rights abuses against the Uighur people and other ethnic minorities, Beijing’s crackdowns on democracy activists in Hong Kong, coercive trade practices, military provocations against self-ruled Taiwan and differences over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Xi’s government has criticised the Biden administration’s posture towards self-ruled Taiwan – which Beijing wants to unify with the mainland – as undermining China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Chinese president has also suggested that Washington wants to stifle Beijing’s growing clout as it tries to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy.
The war in Ukraine is expected to figure prominently in discussions in Bali and at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok, Thailand, at the end of the week, as well as global climate commitments, food security, and tensions over the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, and North Korean missile launches.
North Korea has fired dozens of missiles in recent weeks, including an intercontinental ballistic missile 10 days ago that triggered evacuation alerts in northern Japan, and allies warn of a looming risk of it conducting its seventh nuclear test in the coming weeks.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Saturday that Biden aims to use the meetings to strengthen the joint response of Japan, South Korea and the US to the dangers posed by North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“What we would really like to see is enhanced trilateral security cooperation where the three countries are all coming together,” he said.
“That’s acutely true with respect to the DPRK because of the common threat and challenge we all face, but it’s also true, more broadly, about our capacity to work together to enhance overall peace and stability in the region.”
Eighteen countries accounting for half the global economy attended Sunday’s East Asia Summit, including the ASEAN nations, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the US. ASEAN’s members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is representing President Vladimir Putin, on Sunday accused the West of militarising Southeast Asia to contain Chinese and Russian interest in a key geostrategic battleground.
“The United States and its NATO allies are trying to master this space,” Lavrov told a news conference in Phnom Penh.
He said Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which the US president was promoting heavily at the meeting, was an attempt to bypass “inclusive structures” for regional cooperation.
At a separate news conference, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his brief discussions the previous day with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang were constructive and positive, amid anticipation of a formal summit with Xi.
Australia’s ties with China have also deteriorated in recent years.
“I have said repeatedly about the relationship with China that we should cooperate where we can,” Albanese said.