Bonus harian di Keluaran HK 2020 – 2021.

WASHINGTON/BEIJING/SINGAPORE — China’s desire to keep U.S. influence out of Southeast Asia was on display at the region’s latest ministerial talks, where Beijing warned against letting outsiders throw their weight around.

Interference by countries outside the region constituted the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Friday at the ASEAN Regional Forum, which gathers ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members and partners including the U.S., China and Japan.

While Wang did not name the U.S. outright, his warning came as Washington tries to rally European allies into a coalition to isolate China. Ahead of the meeting, a British aircraft carrier arrived in the South China Sea in a projection of naval power far from home, while Germany said one of its frigates was on its way.

Wang called on the countries in the region to oppose the abuse of “freedom of navigation” exercises, which have seen U.S. warships sail through sea lanes where China is expanding its blue-water presence.

China played up its readiness to conclude a code of conduct for the South China Sea — an upgraded set of ground rules meant to prevent conflict. This emphasis on progress toward a diplomatic solution among nations bordering the sea suggests an attempt to weaken the justification for Western involvement in Southeast Asia’s maritime disputes.

Wang revealed that a tentative agreement had been reached at an Aug. 3 ministerial meeting on a preamble to the code. Negotiations involving China and ASEAN had been treading water since a draft was produced in August 2018.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, center, speaks during an online meeting with his counterparts from ASEAN members, Japan and South Korea on Aug. 3.   © Kyodo

Beijing wants the code to include provisions that bar military exercises and resource development by countries from outside the region. While the negotiations dragged on, China solidified its gains in the South China Sea.

The U.S. did not hold back its criticism of China at the ASEAN forum. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “raised serious concerns about ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang,” according to a press statement.

Blinken also expressed concern over “the rapid growth of [China’s] nuclear arsenal which highlights how Beijing has sharply deviated from its decades-old nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence.”

But hardly any of his ASEAN counterparts backed Blinken’s voice with their own on these points. Not a few ASEAN members bristle at U.S. lecturing over human rights and lean toward China’s opposition to interference in internal affairs.

The next big moment for the Biden administration’s engagement with ASEAN will come when Vice President Kamala Harris travels to Singapore and Vietnam from Aug. 20 to Aug. 26. This marks a rare visit to the region by an American vice president outside of international conferences.

Few expect such overtures to close the wide gap in ASEAN presence between the U.S. and China anytime soon. China remains the dominant contributor of coronavirus vaccines and economic aid to the region in its backyard.

But vaccine diplomacy alone won’t determine ASEAN nations’ attitudes, a diplomatic source in the region said.

So far, neither China nor the U.S. have succeeded in bring ASEAN fully on their side, this person added.