Blinken rallies SE Asia against 'coercion' in swipe at China

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U.S. Secretary of State says countries must uphold the freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas and maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait; he meets China’s Wang Yi but shuns Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed unity on Friday with Southeast Asian nations against “coercion”, in a thinly veiled reference to Beijing, as host Indonesia warned at talks that the region should not become a proxy for global rivalries.

Mr. Blinken met Foreign Ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta at a gathering that also brought the top diplomats of China and Russia, the two main adversaries to the United States.

A day after his latest talks with China on managing tensions between the two powers, Mr. Blinken made a clear if unstated allusion to concerns shared with many in the region over Beijing.

“We share a vision of the Indo-Pacific that is free, open, prosperous, secure, connected and resilient,” Mr. Blinken told ASEAN Foreign Ministers, using another term for the Asia region.

“That means a region where countries are free to choose their own paths and their own partners, where problems are dealt with openly — not through coercion,” he said.

“We must uphold the freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas and maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Friction has been rising for years between Beijing and Southeast Asian nations, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, over China’s sweeping claims to much of the South China Sea.

Maritime incidents have been on the rise and tensions have also soared over Taiwan, the self-governing democracy which Beijing claims and has not ruled out seizing by force.

No proxy

But host Indonesia warned that ASEAN cannot become a proxy, as tensions flare not only between the U.S. and China but over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The Indo-Pacific must not be another battleground,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told ministers of the 18-nation East Asia Summit.

Mr. Blinken met on Thursday evening for more than an hour and a half with China’s foreign policy supremo Wang Yi, less than a month after the top U.S. diplomat paid a rare visit to Beijing. He told Mr. Wang that Washington would hold hackers “accountable” after a breach of U.S. government email accounts was blamed on Chinese state-backed actors, a US official said.

While the U.S. has sought to increase communication with China, Mr. Blinken shunned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The Hindu