BANGKOK – The long-running trade dispute between the United States and China, and simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea will be among the key issues in focus during a ministerial-level meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that begins in Bangkok on Wednesday.
The United States’ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are among the leaders participating in the summit of ASEAN foreign ministers to be held in the Thai capital until Saturday.
A notable absentee is North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho.
The leaders of members countries of ASEAN, which advocates multilateralism in trade, have earlier urged Washington and Beijing to resolve their trade disputes and check protectionism through tariffs, as its effects are becoming apparent in a global economic slowdown.
The foreign ministers of the 10-member regional bloc will hold bilateral meetings with Yi on Wednesday. They are expected to hold their meetings with Pompeo on Thursday.
Both the leaders will attend the East Asia summit on Friday, along with top diplomats of Japan, Russia, New Zealand, South Korea and other regional nations.
Bilateral meetings between countries are common on the sidelines of the ministerial summit.
The territorial claims of China, Taiwan and four member countries of ASEAN (Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines), which overlap in the South China Sea, will also be one of the main subjects discussed during the meeting.
The US has time and again criticized Beijing’s aggressive policies in the area, which is situated on a key maritime trade routes and is rich in natural resources.
China has occupied a number of islands and atolls in the area, artificially widening some of them and creating new islands to enable the construction of military bases and ports for warships.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported an alleged secret agreement between China and Cambodia for giving Beijing exclusive access to a naval base in southern Cambodia, which could potentially help China strengthen military control in South China Sea, although Phnom Penh has denied having made such a deal.
The denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is among the other major topics on the agenda, despite the absence of Pyongyang’s representatives, an unprecedented omission in ASEAN summits, which also follows fresh missile tests by the North Korean regime.
On Wednesday, the ASEAN and Peru are set to sign a Friendship and Cooperation pact, which strengthen ties between the South American nation and the Asian bloc.
The ASEAN – consisting of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – forms a bloc of 647 million inhabitants that aims to raise its combined GDP to $4.7 trillion by 2025 to become the world’s fourth largest economic power.