World Leaders Unite in Dramatic Showdown: Can They Prevent a New Cold War?

Chinese Premier Li Qiang emphasized the importance of avoiding a “new Cold War” in managing international conflicts during a gathering of world leaders in Indonesia. The summit, which brought together members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with China, Japan, and South Korea, highlighted the need for countries to handle differences and disputes in a constructive manner.

Li underscored the significance of opposing alignments, bloc confrontations, and the emergence of a new Cold War in the current global landscape. The summit also included broader discussions between ASEAN, US Vice President Kamala Harris, and leaders from partner countries such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India. Notably, neither US President Joe Biden nor Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event.

A major focus of the meetings in Jakarta was growing concerns about China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea, a vital trade route where several ASEAN members have territorial disputes with China. Vice President Harris reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the Southeast Asian region and expressed concern over the ongoing violence following the military coup in Myanmar.

Harris also stated that the United States would continue to pressure the Myanmar junta to halt the “horrific violence” that has erupted since the coup in 2021. A White House official previously mentioned that Harris would emphasize the shared interest of the United States and ASEAN in upholding a rules-based international order, particularly in the face of China’s unlawful maritime claims and provocative actions in the South China Sea.

During the summit, ASEAN discussed the acceleration of negotiations with China on a long-discussed code of conduct for the South China Sea, as mentioned by Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. The South China Sea issue was also raised during an ASEAN-Japan summit, where leaders stressed the importance of maintaining a conducive environment, particularly in the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea.

The United States and its allies echoed ASEAN’s call for freedom of navigation and overflight in the region, urging parties to avoid establishing physical presence in disputed waters. China’s release of a map with a “10-dash line,” seemingly expanding its territorial claims in the South China Sea, was met with rejection by several ASEAN members.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos affirmed his country’s commitment to defending its sovereignty in the South China Sea while rejecting narratives that frame the disputes solely in the context of strategic competition between powerful nations. ASEAN nations have varying degrees of diplomatic, business, and military ties with China, and the United States has pursued relationships with ASEAN countries to different extents.

Earlier in the week, the 10 ASEAN member states convened their summit, with leaders aiming to assert the bloc’s relevance and address criticism regarding its approach to Myanmar’s military leaders in achieving peace. Indonesia, as the ASEAN chair, emphasized the need to enhance maritime stability in the region and explore new initiatives toward that goal. Regional leaders also expressed deep concern over the lack of substantial progress on the bloc’s five-point peace plan for Myanmar.

Additionally, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol pledged to collaborate with Japan and China to facilitate the early resumption of three-way talks aimed at improving relations. Yoon emphasized the necessity of ending any military cooperation with North Korea, following reports of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss supplying weapons for the conflict in Ukraine.

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